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Brain by dierk schaefer.

“Every man can, of he so desires, become the sculptor of his own brain”
Santiago Ramon y Cajal

Santiago Ramon y Cajal was a nobel laureate and one of the greatest neurobiologists in history.  His assertion above has been proved more and more true as time has gone on and more elaborate science has been able to affirm the brain’s ability to change.  REMEMBER one of my favorite words for 2010 NEUROPLASTICITY?  I have been, as a trauma therapist, trauma survivor, and passionate advocate for people’s ability to find healing out of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, more invigorated by the day with the overwhelming new science proving that my experience and beliefs are more than just hypothesis in the mist.

I went to a lecture last Friday on “Neurobiology & Trauma” presented by the highly esteemed and eloquent Dr. Amanda Evans of Florida Gulf Coast University (and President of Florida’s National Association of Social Work).  I love a good neurobiology and trauma lecture as much as the next person–well, ok I guess I love it probably more than MOST of the people next to me–but I never know what to expect and get nervous for a 101 type generalist discussion.  I was blown away by Dr. Evans workshop–she affirmed all of what I have already learned and threw her own vantage point into the mix in a refreshing way.

One of the things she stressed, and I loved her description (I will paraphrase), was the difference between a traumatic experience, trauma survivor, and a person living with Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  I loved that she made this distinction because as a trauma therapist in a small field with this focus–most mental health professionals don’t specialize in this area–I have found there are so many perpetuated myths and misconceptions about PTSD that often get passed on as truths to clients and other professionals.  Some of the greatest myths I have heard perpetuated by other mental health professionals (well-intentioned but can be so damaging for clients and the perceptions of PTSD as a whole) are:

  • PTSD is a terminal diagnosis–You will have it forever.
  • PTSD is incurable, un-healable and can only be moderated with medication.
  • PTSD exists if you have even one or two of the symptoms and even if they go away if they return (even one symptom) then it means you have had it all along.
  • PTSD happens to anyone who has experienced trauma–if something traumatic happened you have PTSD.
  • PTSD is treated with talk therapy and medication–there are no other treatment approaches that do any good.
  • …I know there are more but these are the biggest.

Dr. Evans, in her eloquence, stated: (paraphrased)

“Having a symptom of PTSD does not make the diagnosis.  A person may have a flashback or intrusive thought at some point triggered by something that happens but that does not mean they have PTSD.  Post traumatic stress disorder is a persistent cluster of symptoms so great and overwhelming that they impact functioning and living life.  They affect a person’s ability to work, have personal relationships, and generally function in the world.  If you are not experiencing these elements in your daily life then you are having a normal response to a traumatic experience if you occasionally are reminded and it brings on a singular nightmare, thought, flashback–that is ok and does not mean that you have a disordered condition.  There is a misrepresentation of the difference between a normative response of a trauma survivor and a disordered way of being.”

Again, this is my paraphrasing of her words but the gist is what she stated.  It is always exciting for me to hear another professional, especially a well-versed specialist in the area of trauma, neurobiology, and diagnosis, describe what I know to be true as well.  Our brains can change.  The very nature of our own capacity for survival–mind,body, and spirit–that help us to SURVIVE are what can entrench that survival instinct and create a disordered response to the world–one that is all survival mode all the time.  This entrenched way of being that becomes a disordered response to the world in all aspects (mind,body, and spirit) are PTSD.  We can chip away at those responses and CHANGE our brain with the same resilience and survival capacity that brought us into a PTSD state in the first place.  The brain and our humanity are complex but also simple–we survive and hopefully through work we can do more than that and begin to THRIVE.  This is true for trauma survivors and everyone overcoming difficulties in life.

This also relates so much to MIND, BODY, and SPIRIT WELLNESS in that it gives hope and the potential for hope and change in ourselves and our lives grounding in reality and science!  Whether you are dealing with traumatic issues, stress, anxiety, or any emotionally distressing experience you can know that there is hope in our world and in our own BRAINS for CHANGE.  Neuroscientists are saying it, therapists are saying it, and the illusions and myths are being dispelled to make way for the truths of hard science and soft science.  I have known my own truth in my life, PTSD, and recovery journey in a visceral way…these new facts only help me to depict this truth concretely for others and be able to be an instiller of hope in my clients lives rather than handing out terminal diagnosis of disorder with no end.

APRIL is the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness month and in the honor of that I wanted to discuss the exciting world of hope in recovery and healing from traumatic experience.  I hope more people can believe in themselves, their brains, their spirits, their bodies and the ability to find healing from a variety of sources!  I discovered yoga as an avenue to my own wellness and found, through neurobiology and the roots of trauma and trouble with speech in trauma, that movement can often be a great outlet for emotional pain when talk cannot.  I hope everyone, trauma survivor, and just those surviving their own issues of life, takes the time to search for their own avenues to wellness!  What do you love? What brings you comfort? Start there and reach out for professional help if you need it–there are ways to healing and there are people who can help!

All my thoughts and blessings to those suffering from emotional pains today and every day.


The old glass half empty versus glass half full is an overused phrase but most overused phrases become so because they are both succinct and apt–as is this particular tome of truth.  So often we look at life, emotional distress, and healing from a glass half empty vantage point and in doing so we short change ourselves and our own capacity to find healing and wellness in our minds, hearts, and spirits.

I spoke in my 10 Words of Inspiration for 2010 post about the word “neuroplasticity” which is defined as the brain’s ability to CHANGE.  What a fascinating and optimistic truism of neurobiology that we, as humans, have been privileged to discover.  And what wonderful hope this truth can bring in life and healing if we choose to see it.

I was made privy on Sunday, via a facebook link, about a post from May 2009 by Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s “Paging Dr. Gupta” blog, medical correspondent for CNN.  He was asked whether there is healing from PTSD and his opinion, I believe more personal than medical, dictated that there was no full healing from PTSD and that it was a constant, lifelong struggle just to manage.  I felt provoked, by the certitude of his assertion to leave the following comment on this post  that I think describes in full my vantage point on the matter (as old as the post was it was just too in my core to say something):

Hello,

It is always a difficult thing as a survivor of trauma and sufferer from PTSD to tell your story. Thank you Dr. Gupta for doing that–it takes much bravery and internal strength. I think, also, that it is hard when you are in the immediate throes of traumatic experience and the aftermath of PTSD to see outside of it–very understandably so. I remember sitting on the side of traumatic experience where I thought there could be no relief or release and unable to find anyone that would insinuate otherwise. It is, again, so understandable to be so deep inside the pain of trauma and not yet in on a path of reprieve and healing that it is hard to imagine real healing or reprieve is possible.

I am a trauma therapist who has worked extensively with combat veterans, survivors of sexual trauma, sufferers of domestic violence, war torture and a variety of other traumatic issues to include chronic illness, eating disorders, and addictions. I have also integrated an extensive amount of mindfulness practices, mind/body techniques, yoga methods, animal-bond therapies and creative arts to facilitate healing in my own recovery as a trauma survivor over the years and in present-day in the lives of my clients. I have found that a multitude of approaches can facilitate a great amount of healing even to the point of being curative in most respects.

Can things be triggering to a person with traumatic history? Yes. But that does not PTSD make. PTSD is misunderstood so often and in that there are a lot of professionals and survivors alike giving themselves or their clients these, as I call them, “terminal PTSD diagnosis”. Telling people with PTSD that they have it forever, there is no way out, is beyond demoralizing it is minimizing a human’s ability to heal or (as we have learned from the study of neuroplasticity in the brain) the brain’s capacity, neurologically, to CHANGE ITSELF.

We learn survival response in overload during traumatic experience and when it gets “stuck” PTSD ensues. PTSD is a cluster of sever symptoms that equal up to a disorder by definition. We are all effected by the things that happen in our lives and painful experience leaves a mark. We cannot erase the existence of traumatic experience from our memories but there is possibility to heal the traumatic response and that stuckness of the survival mechanism so that one is not diagnostically, by definition, a sufferer of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

Are there moments we are reminded of painful experience? Yes. Are there moments that might trigger that memory? Yes. But we also have a way to pull ourselves out–body, mind, and spirit–of the PTSD of trauma and live a healthful life. I have done this and I work to help others do the same daily as a trauma therapist. I believe in neuroplasticity, the brain’s capacity to change and essentially heal itself back to repair. I believe in all of our abilities to find our own resilience and wellness. These things are not easy and there is a process but I will not tell my clients that their PTSD is terminal–this was not true for me and I don’t believe it has to be true for others.

All my best wishes, prayers, and hopes for healing to all those suffering from PTSD and to yourself Dr. Gupta–I believe in your potential to heal and find wellness!

Teresa Bennett Pasquale, LCSW
http://www.embodymentalhealth.com

I figured that my comment would go into the blogosphere oblivion and then today I received the following email from Emily Van Horn, a somatic and energy bodywork professional from Santa Monica, California:

SUBJECT: thank you!

FROM: Emily Van Horn

Hello Teresa,
I just wanted to say thank you so much for your comment to Dr. Gupta.  As a trauma healing practitioner myself, I was appalled when reading that post that someone in such a position of “authority” would promote the mis conception that people can only manage their symptoms but can’t ever heal from PTSD.  I see the opposite of that on a daily basis in my own healing practice.

I wrote a comment that was never posted so it’s a relief to see that your was.  Again, thank you for taking the time to share your truth and help dispel the misinformation that is being promoted about the human capacity to heal from traumatic experiences.

many blessings,
Emily

I had been discussing earlier that day with my friend and co-professional Michele Rosenthal over at Heal My PTSD.com the impact a survivor and trauma professional’s voice can have when leant to the prospects and hopes for a healing journey.  That is why I started all the work I have, am trying (slowly) to write the memoir of my trauma experience and healing journey and created my website to expand people’s vantage points of potential angles and paths to healing.  Then there are the days I wonder if I am shouting into an abyss with only my own echo.  I know we all have those days.  Yesterday, on all fronts was not one of those days.  From the wonderful comments I got from people on my Karma-Infuse Your Life post to the wonderful surprise of an email from Emily  (LOOK FOR UPCOMING INTERVIEW WITH EMILY) I really felt as though my dreams, hopes, and personal journey of healing had some purpose and place as I shout into the void with my voice and my story.

My hope for everyone is HOPE.  A hope for healing.  A hope for peace.  A hope for a CHANGE OF MIND–as neuroplasticity tells us is possible for all of us with the right amount of effort.  See what we can do when we just try.  I tell my clients that all the time and they surprise themselves with proving that truism for themselves.  I hope for the hope of healing for Dr. Sanjay Gupta and all of the readers of his writing about trauma and all those who have not found the own healing properties and resources in their own minds, hearts, and spirits.  IT is there.  I believe in that.

“Taking one breath after another with my horses–and you must breathe with them if you want to understand their rhythms and emotions–I can settle myself, become calm, take stock of my surroundings.”


“I have spent my life with horses, eventually becoming a horse trainer and riding instructor.  Horses were my true teachers so I tell my story through them.  They are why I stand and speak.  They are my touchstone and bridge to my own kind.  They help me heal myself and go into human relationships a little stronger. “

Excerpted from MY HORSES, MY HEALERS by Shelley Rosenberg

Shelley Rosenberg is a courageous and impassioned woman.  Wounded by the trauma of childhood abuses she was not broken.  Her relationship with horses over the course of her life helped her to bolster her own inner strength and eventually write her memoir, My Horses, My Healers, which explores horse-human bond, her personal intimate experience with horses, and how the bond between horse and human can create healing out of traumatic experience.  She has collaborated with Dr. Nancy Coyne, MD (whose interview was posted earlier this week) to create a workshop entitled “Horses as Healers” which incorporates mind/body techniques, yoga, guided visualization, and horse-human relational experiences to facilitate healing experiences in trauma survivors.

Shelley is an Epona Advanced Approved Instructor working out of Arizona ( at the Epona Center) and Maine in facilitating growth, healing, and wellness through the horse-human relationship.  I am always profoundly impacted by the universal elements of traumatic experience and healing catharsis.  Shelley references multiple times in the interview below the process of going from “surviving to thriving” which I also discuss in my website http://www.embodymentalhealth.com as my credo: “Life: Don’t just survive, thrive.”  I think it shows a like ambition in those who have healed from trauma and search for ways to help others find healing and wellness from their traumatic experience.  Shelley’s book is a story of strength, courage, and discovery through intimate experience and exploration of horses as healers.

I hope you take the time to look into her work with Nancy Coyne and her memoir which is beautifully written.  I am in admiration of her voice as a survivor of traumatic experience.  I believe strongly that the more survivors who have learned to thrive can speak out the more they can inspire others to work towards their own recovery and healing–and give courage to people who need it.  I thank Shelley, as a fellow survivor, for her courage in telling her story and taking the time to do so again on this blog.

Q:  Why did you decide to write out your traumatic experience and healing journey in your book “My Horses, My Healers”?  Did you have any trepidations or concerns about opening up so much of your inner journey in writing for others to see?  What did you hope would come out of telling your story?

I truly had only one reason to write my story, to help others use there voice. to give words to there story, and be deeply heard.

Q:  What do you think, at the root, is so healing about horses and the horse human relationship?  What for you was the cathartic element of your experience with horses?

Horses were my ears  to the little girl who heard “if you tell you will die”. They can listen, react, and go back to grazing. Something I was not able to do. How the horse knows by nature after a trauma peace move on, life is no longer in danger.

My cathartic experience as you ask was breaking my arm so I did not have to go to Grandpa’s house. My learning to use my voice was what set me free to move through the past and like the horses go back to a full life.

Q:  You describe your experience with horses as “self-healing”; what do you mean by that?  Do you feel “healed” from you traumatic experience?  What were the essential elements of your healing process?  What do you think got you to the place, emotionally, that you are today?

Horses mirror the authentic self, I was living a life from horses accident to horse accident. Each fall was a way to get out of the inner pain I was in. Each injury was worse then the next, until I got that I was the cause of these falls. I found one therapist after another until I found someone who deeply listened to the pain in my soul. I still am doing my own work I believe we are never done learning. It is my job as a healer to keep up on my own personal work.

Q:  What attracted you to horses as a child?  Why did you follow the equestrian path professionally?

My very best friend had horses, I have Joanne Clark to be thankful for leading me to them. As I started to learn more and more about horses, spending every minute I could with them.   I knew I wanted to be a horse professional at a very young age.

Q:  When did you begin to explore using your professional horsemanship capacities to help others heal from their emotional issues of trauma and the traumatic experience?

I think as a riding instructor we all listen to stories of the clients’ accidents. If we ask questions and offer our own truth we can help anyone. I am more careful now and work on deep issues with Dr. Nancy Coyne a trauma specialist. We work directly with the horses as co-facilitators.  Riding and ground work are incorporated in all of our workshops.

Q:  You have created a program called “Horses as Healers” at the Epona Center in Arizona.  What led to the creation of this program with your co-facilitator Nancy Coyne, MD?  What led you to create the program in the format you did–with the incorporation of creative arts, yoga, and other methods of complementary therapies?

We started this work first in a Horses As Healers workshop in Bath, Maine. I was working for the Epona Center so our next full workshop was at Apache Springs ranch. The creations propose was to give a safe space for the participants to be deeply heard. and given tools to help change the patterns they are in. To go from surviving to thriving, the arts and yoga and body work are all incorporated to move the process along in a new pathway for radical self care.

Q:  What kind of riding and horsemanship techniques have you implimented to facilitate a psychotherapeutic experience for participants in your group?

We do so many different mind body connections, like feeling the movement of the horse while mounted, reflective grooming, and connected round pen where four people go into the round pen with one horse. They must speak to each other before any movement takes place. Like asking the horse to walk they need to all agree to do this action before the person who they decide will ask the horse to move. So they ask if everything they do is okay before they move ahead. If someone’s arousal level goes up the group stops or time out, and they come together in the pen to speak the fear. Most of the time the horse will come in and listen to what is going on. Then they go back to what ever goal they set for themselves. The object is communication, and being heard.

Q:  How is it, as a dressage trained professional, to work in a mental health capacity with a psychiatrist?  How do you both balance your professional backgrounds and goals for clients (re: learning horsemanship skills and creating therapeutic experiences) to create a cohesive psychotherapeutic experience for your clients?

Dr. Nancy Coyne is the mental health professional, I am the trained horse professional, we must be open to what ever takes place with the clients. We have now been doing this work for four years and are very good at speaking our own truth in the moment. We respect each others decisions and always have the clients best interest and safety first.

Q: On your Epona website biographic information it discusses your work with “reflective riding”?  What is this technique and how is it therapeutically effective for clients?  What is “passive roundpenning” and how is that different from “active roundpenning”?  What are “Journey Rides”?

The reflective ride has evolved in many ways it can and usually is a profound experience. The rider reflects what is going while they are lead by a trained staff employee. If they are having an issue with a fall or a body sensation we can ask all kinds of questions to have them reflect on what happened frame by frame.

Passive round pen is a more private time the client has with the horse they choose alone in the pen. Active round pen is where we teach the client how to move the horse safely. The journey ride is a guided meditation on horseback. With a story I have created to fit the group.

Q:  What have you discovered in creating and implementing this program?  What did you expect?  What were the results?  What has surprised you?

I have discovered the voice is one of the tools to set us free from our well used pathways that have not been helping us move on. I have learned I have great joy in helping others. I wanted to help others speak and we have done this many, many times. The results  truly  take my breath away. People come now ready to do the work they came for. I am not surprised I am truly grateful for the gifts i have been given.

Q:  What do you envision in the future of Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy and other Equine Assisted Activities?  What do you hope to see moving forward in your own practice and programming in the field?

I see the future being more guided by rules from EFFMA or NARAH. I hope people take this work as serious as it is. I am writing another book accessing your intuition I will be telling the stories of what has evolved in my own work with others.

Q:  What would you like to say to other trauma survivors struggling on their own journey of healing?  What would you like to say to other professionals looking to explore alternative ways to trauma and mental health treatment outside of traditional talk therapy?

To trauma survivors I hope they find someone to listen to them in a way they have there process deeply heard. Do not stop looking until you find this human. If you can find a therapist who has access and has worked with horses as healers.

To traditional talk therapists please take a step out of the office with a horse professional and try this very powerful work for yourself.

Q:  Any words of inspiration, wisdom, or anything else you would like to leave the readers with.

This is the way to help the clients move from surviving to thriving, the way of the horse.

Thank you for letting me speak.

“A lovely horse is always an experience…. It is an emotional experience of the kind that is spoiled by words.”

Beryl Markham (British born Kenyan Horse Trainer)

  

In the realm of wordless moving arts, therapy with the aid of horses adds a rich additional component–relationship.  And through that relationship there are an infinite number of metaphors that can be found, cultivated, and mined when being able to work with these mystical creatures in the aid of healing trauma and emotional pain in people’s lives, hearts, and souls. 

There is a deep rupture to the self that trauma induces–we are hesitant to trust the world and the people in it when we have been traumatized.  Our natural fight or flight mechanism is ignited and our impulse is to avoid, isolate, distance from human connection. 

This is why the horse is a powerful ally in rebuilding the capacity for relationship in those who have lost faith in the capacity for the unconditional nature of love and have forgone trusting relationships with others.  A horse does not judge or betray it just is–and as I discussed in the prior post YOGIC EQUUS PART 1 the horse is able to be in the moment and present with us in the most yogic of ways. 

At the same time, if we are not present, honest, true, and confident in the present of our equine companions then we lose the connection between human and horse and we lose our place in the horse’s present moment.  That is to say if we the human cannot be calm and assertive, present and attentive, then the horse will respond by not responding to us.  And in this connection and connection lost is an amazing metaphor for someone, in a therapeutic way, to find where they falter in their relationships, connections, and ability to stay present, conscious, and grounded in life.

The findings of this may be painful, frustrating, angering, and more but in the rich well of emotions and behavioral responses one has to finding a break in their human-horse connection a person might learn more than they ever thought possible about how they relate to the world and the humans in it.  And in the context of human-horse (in a land without judgement or betrayal) a person may learn to heal their wounds, mend the ruptures, and break the patterns that plague their human-human life. 

In a brief amount of time I have learned an unimaginable amount about the human self from people’s interactions in a therapeutic relationship with their horse.  I have learned so much about myself as a person, as a therapist, and as a yogini–about where I am and where I want to go.  I cannot wait to explore further into this rich metaphor of the horse and find where, on the wings of pegasus’ decendents, humans can find new layers of healing–body, mind, and soul. 

  

 

Maybe it is the New Year creeping in, tax season on the horizon, or the fact that my husband and I are having to forgo Christmas presents this year due to low finances, but I found my mind swirling around the fiscally pragmatic today. 

Another reason money and money woes are on my mind is that I found this amazing Integrative Mental Health Conference in Phoenix in March with the likes of Andrew Weil, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and Amy Weintraub on mind/body healing approaches in mental health–jackpot–and I cannot even conceivable afford to go. 

And it makes me wonder, in this shaky economic time, when jobs are not certain and the stock market even less so, how can anyone afford enlightenment?  I  look at wonderful educational centers like Kripalu and Omega, places where I find enriching workshops weekly that make me salivate cerebrally just thinking of them, but there is no way I could afford the accommodations, airfare, and then coursework costs to attend. 

The saddest part yet is that I am a graduate school educated person with a moderately well salaried job (for my field of social work, which is considerably underpaid as a whole).  So, if I can’t afford enlightenment, enrichment, and the coursework to a more centered self, more soulful life, deeper yoga practice and life path then what about everyone else?!  (Yes, I do believe that moment deserved an exclamation point, please don’t be offended by my virtual shouting).

I received a lovely email from a graduate school social work professor in the midwest last week and we had a rich discussion regarding complementary therapies, yoga as therapeutic, and the potentials for training the young soon-to-be-therapist minds of her students with a curriculum that included yogic practices. 

I was so hopeful being able to be a participant in such a discussion.  It gave me hope that one day affording enlightenment and having accessable mind/body healing practices will not be just for those few who have the cash for the expenditure of a flight and a long weekend away or even those who can plunk down upwards of $20.00 on a yoga class. 

In a world in which mind/body techniques are effectively integrated into therapeutic practice and graduate schools might, conceivably, be churning out eager minds well-versed in mind/body and yogic techniques then this kind of enlightenment, these tools of self-care and self-soothing might just be accessable to everyone.  And it could be billable by therapeutic businesses as a therapeutic activity. 

Now this day, on a mass scale, may not be tomorrow but I believe steps towards it are happening today.  Through motivated and passionate persons like the graduate professor who are willing to impart this learning to a generation of students, with curriculums wide enough to allow for these discussions to be had, in therapeutic workplaces open to trying the programming, and studies on these subjects continuing to bring more efficacy to the field this new journey of healing is beginning. 

My hope is for a future in which an affluent benefactor (kidding, well sort of) could fund my dream project: non-profit holistic therapeutic centers that would incorporate mind/body healing, animal-based therapies, and somatic psychotherapies all under one roof.  The more people I meet with like-minded passions the more I feel this hope may one day be attainable, whether for me or for someone else.  In the meantime I guess I have to hope for a temporary benefactor to pay for me to go to the Integrative Mental Health Conference, or just resign myself to the fact that for now I just can’t afford enlightenment. 

Stay tuned for the second part of YOGIC EQUUS at the end of the week. 

Also, much thanks to www.itsallyogababy.com for listing me among her favorite posts of 2009 and to http://www.cirkla.com/newsletters/112209.htm for listing my blog among the many wonderful yogic bloggers of the blogosphere! 

 

“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”

Winston Churchill

Well said Mr. Churchill, although my feminist self would add, “…or the inside of a female.”  Either way it speaks to the profound experience found alongside a horse–stroking their mane, rubbing their flank, staring them in the eyes as you nuzzle their cheek.  There is indeed some silent profundity in a moment like that and something that is intrinsically good for the soul. 

Alongside a horse and face-to-face I have found some of the most challenging moments in creating an authentic self, finding my present-centered mindset, and really being in the now with myself and with the horse.  This is the thing, much as a wise meditative sage, a horse knows when you are lying even about being present in the moment.  People seek far and wide for a yogic guru to guide them to better them, a higher level of conciousness, a more aware state of existence but I would venture to say that I have met no greater teacher than the horses I have encountered.  Nor have I met a stricter teacher than the most wise yogic equus. 

Today I was privileged enough to teach Standing and Seated Mountain Pose (Tadasana) to the most attuned and earnest of students–trauma survivors.  It was a very simple lesson in being present in the moment, being both “calm” and “assertive” at the same time and they were excellent pupils–both in a psychotherapeutic and a yogic context.  They learned how standing could be powerful, strong, and energized.  They saw how being this way would make them more healthfully alert in life and more present both alongside and on the back of their horses. 

Experiencing this moment with them was enriching for me beyond imagination.  My dream of blending these two complementary therapies together was coming to fruition and blossoming fruit and metaphor that I could not have imagined.  My clients are constantly astounding me with their investment in their own healing, their insight into their own souls and the pain therein, and their ability to soak up the tools that can help them.  This is why every session I can I end groups and individual treatment with relaxation and breath (prana). 

I softly whisper to the seated and closed-eyed participants, “Breathe in through your nose all the cool air, breathe out through your nose all the hot air and tension.”  My first meditation teacher, a trained circus clown (no, seriously) turned Buddhist nun taught me this phrase and I found it so beautiful and visual I love to use it.  Please feel free to do this for yourself any time you get a chance, it is a lovely practice to come back to our breath, finding our center–this translates on and off the saddle, on the mat and into the world. 

TO BE CONTINUED IN YOGIC EQUUS PART 2:  Finding the Metaphors

 only whispering around here by lepiafgeo on flickr “Patience is the companion of wisdom.”
St. Augustine

 

My ability to be patient with myself is minimal. My awareness of this becomes maximized during certain circumstances that require patience with self, with situations, with life–circumstances over which I have little control. Surgery and the aftermath is one of those infuriating type of circumstances.

 

My irrational and grandiose plans to work on a book, make PowerPoint outlines, and write lengthy posts daily with all this “spare” time post-surgery was really deluded. Of course my delusion only becomes clear at points like now where I sway from medication induced delirium, ache inside to out with sharp pangs and deep cramps of stitches and bruising, and find my ability to focus on this sentence so difficult the idea of writing grand tomes to complementary medicine (ie working on my guidebook “Beyond Talk”) is so far out of my capacity it is pretty hilarious.

 

I write this moment of self-deprecating critique down on virtual paper for two reasons: 1) To remind myself, should future bouts of overzealous insanity occur, that these unrealistic stretches of self are not possible. 2) To be a reminder for everyone else who might have such proclivities that sometimes we just have to be patient with ourselves and kind to ourselves when we need it.

 

We have to be patient with our inner patient. Whether recovering from surgery, mending from an emotionally difficult week, dealing with unexpected trauma, or just finding ourselves in circumstances that we didn’t expect we all have to learn to manage self-care and know when to give ourselves a break.

 

We live in a world that tells us to do more, produce more, be more than we are and do it faster and faster than ever before. Well, sometimes not giving ourselves a moment to breathe, heal, and reboot is the greatest damage and disservice we can do to ourselves.

 

I am the worst perpetrator of a lack of self-care and, as I wrote in my last post, also someone most in need of being attuned to taking care of this body and mind I have been given. Only because of a medication induced stupor at present am I able to sit long enough to write this brief sentiment, but I thought now, while I am a bit foggy with logic and confronted with my own truth, I should take the time to tell everyone what I need to remember myself–take care of yourself.

 

Give yourself a day just to read in the sun, even if you had 10 things on your “to-do” list. Find the time to get a massage or do a relaxation exercise or ride your bike. Give yourself a moment to breathe in today, heal from anything lingering from yesterday, and rejuvenate for tomorrow. Right now I have ten things still swirling in my head that I must do, but maybe I MUST wait to do them tomorrow. Because, as my husband has been shouting at me all weekend, “You just had surgery!”

 

So, maybe it is not the time to write my book, or make my outlines, or get things done. And maybe, just maybe, this isn’t “spare time” to do my to-dos, but it is time that is meant to be dedicated to healing and repairing and preparing for when I do need to do all those things again.

 

So I urge you all, as I continue to  urge myself today, take care of yourself. Give yourself moments to breathe. Remember to take care of yourself. I will continue to remind my inner zealot to do the same.

 

Check out my guest post (don’t worry, written pre-surgery) over at Nadine Fawell’s lovely blog!

http://nadinefawell.net/2009/11/01/working-it-out/

 

Imperfection, I by lepiafgeo on flickr

 

 

 
Operating Table by MikeIsNeat on flickr

“The body never lies.”

Martha Graham (famous dancer/choreographer)

  

 

Practice what you preach…it is essential, no?  It is a bit of a duh, if I do say so myself.  Well I just had a moment of sorts over the last 72 hours—a long harsh moment of reality thrust upon me, necessarily and with excellent timing (in the script of my life this is just where I would put such a revelation).  It was a moment—call it a “duh” or an “aha” or an “epiphany” if you will—that reminded me of the importance, non-optional and crucial nature, of holistic living in my own life. 

 

I talk about it with passion until I’m breathless and I vocalize it to anyone who will listen—a complimentary medicine and holistic approach to life is vital for full mind, body, and soul healing.  And although I work towards my own holistic health in baby steps I am not quite the vibrant enactor as I am the vocalize—I am a bit sluggish, sometimes even a bit resistant for all of the reasons I know that people are. 

 

I am stagnant in my old ways of thinking and living.  I am full of negative learned behaviors cultivated with great art over the years.  I am sluggishly lazy about making the alterations in full that would be necessary for living a truly clean, green , and healthfully mean life.  It is a scary prospect—to so drastically change our life patterns.  Yet at the same time to do so is so logical and such a small concession in the grander scheme of things—taking into account a longer, healthier, and less painful existence on all levels.

 

This week has shown me, that like the diabetic person that has not option of whether to take care of their body and their diet as they must do what is necessary or suffer serious, even life threatening consequences, I too must look at my holistic health from a more serious perspective.  Every move I make, or don’t, every substance, hormone, and edible thing I put in my body affects the state of it. 

 

I have (as much as I have been trying to ignore the severity of it for some time) a very serious and chronic illness which only becomes more pervasive and debilitating with time.  I am in a crucial stage of “change” or “be changed for the worse”.  I am on the precipice of a life and a body that could go either way and I have to treat the care of this bodily casing as if it were a life or death situation—it is at least the life or death of my womb that is at stake (not to mention the surrounding organs that are often ravaged by endometriosis like the bladder, bowel, appendix, among others–two out of the three I already have scar tissue on from fusing of organ to organ , by endometriosis growth, prior to my first surgery). 

 

I can no longer say, “Tomorrow I will live better,” or, “Just one more bagel can’t hurt,” or, “I’m just too tired for yoga today.”  I have to effect a lifestyle commiserate with the seriousness of my health, the necessity for self-care as a priority, and an active holistic approach to healing that I know to be so vital.  I can no longer sit on the sidelines of my body and wait to see what happens.  Proactive is the only way. 

 

It is hard, we all know, to shift so drastically the things that inhabit our daily lives, routines, and ways of being.  I know mine is somewhat of an extreme example of how everything we do, consume, imbibe and how it affects our internal and external health, but in some ways this drastic perspective on living is something we should all work harder to enact—and no one knows better than I how much of a struggle it is to do that. 

 

But I know, too, that my every moment and lifestyle decision affects me holistically so I must live taking my whole self into account.  I know that when I have steak, dairy, soda, and white bread my cramps worsen.  I know that and I ignore it quite often. 

 

My body gives me all the signals I need of how to care for it and thus far I have been very capricious with this precious and delicate physicality that I have.  But I can’t be a sideline player in the game of me versus endometriosis.  I have been reminded and reinvigorated by the knowledge that this illness will get worse—how fast and how much is really up to me, every day, and in the choices I make. 

 

We have much of the control over our living, but so often we don’t enact proactive (w)holistic health because it seems too hard or too much.  Well, I can say from experience that the alternative, what can happen when we don’t care for this precious container for our mind and our soul, is much worse than working hard to live well.

 

I hope that this–my life, my body, my situation–can be a reminder to everyone of how precious this life is and how precious these bodies are we have been given.  We owe it to ourselves to take the best care possible of it before something (and something can happen to anyone) happens that makes us realize it is too late to effect changes and damage has been done.  I, myself, am at my own precipice, facing my own “duh” moment and I have big changes to make to create a life  not just of forethought and promises of change, but a life of making that change—I am the one who loses if I don’t.  Life is not a sidelines game and our bodies are vital in the holistic care of ourselves—body, mind, and soul.

 

Daily yoga, clean eating, and beginning active courses of acupuncture will be my first steps to getting my body to a better place to fight the internal enemy that waits, biding  it’s time to eat away at me, from the inside out.  I can create a defensive line that can really save or at least preserve my internals for a longer time, not to do that would be dangerously capricious.  I no longer want to be dangerously capricious. 

 

This blog, this move, this timing of beginning yoga school soon and actively working towards a more yogic, meditative, healthier lifestyle seems (as I said above) to be almost a scripted path I am on.  What a more perfect time for me to be forced to take seriously the severity and vital nature of this life path I am treading on and the life health I am preaching to others.  “Practice what you preach!” my life is yelling at me from every angle imaginable–or beware the consequences. 

 

I prefer to listen to what I have been given and make the necessary changes to myself and my lifestyle that have been a long time coming and necessary to have a long time yet to come.  Endometriosis may be the internal enemy but I would rather to be fighting against the enemy, not aiding its troops with my every action.  I know for everyone effecting changes of any kind is a huge undertaking and no easy task–change is hard.  But change will come whether you enact it or something else does.  Proactive living is much more empowering.  I hope to finally be able to say, with no wavering, or equivocating, that I truly, holistically, practice what I preach.  I must, my body tells me so.

 

 Acupuncture heart by Sharon Pazner on flickr

“The body is your temple.  Keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in.”

B.K.S. Iyengar, Yoga: The Path To Holistic Health

   

 

Moon Silhoutted Trees Mosaic by ctd 2005 on flickr 

        African proverb: “The ax forgets, the tree remembers.”

        Maya Angelou, Even the Stars Look Lonesome, 1997

 

 

When I left home for Fort Collins, Colorado at twenty I was running away.  Running away from my trauma, my memories of places, memories of the faces that had become blurred, and the history of a life that (at the time) I didn’t want to remember or own.  So, I went half way across the nation hoping for geographical healing and what I confronted was everything I left behind.  First, subconsciously, through painful mistakes, symptomatic responses in overdrive, and a very unhealthy and volatile relationship.  Then, intentionally, when two and a half years into my “new life” and many falls downward I realized that my demons, my ghosts, and my life didn’t disappear just because I did. 

 

I remember sitting in my first trauma therapist’s office and her making me do what I now know to be “The Empty Chair” Technique from Gestalt therapy and just crying all the tears I had been holding in for the person I was before my trauma, for the person I had become after it, and for all of the unnecessary years of guilt and shame I had bestowed on myself.  It was a first step on a very long journey that continued to include falling down, but at least it didn’t involve any more running away. 

 

Six months after the afternoon in that office I moved back to New Jersey—to confront myself and my memories in the place from whence they came.  I realized once I stopped hiding inside myself I no longer had to hide externally. 

 

On the brink of my move to Florida (just a few months ago) I wanted to make sure for myself that this was a move forward not a fleeing situation.  I find myself very attentive to my own self assessment—making sure I am making conscious decisions for viable reasons so as never to fall back into the trunk of my own car on the road of my own life again.  Most of me knows this will never happen, but the intellectual part of me just wants to think it through anyway.  I realized that in coming back to my hometown and confronting the faces and places that had haunted my mind I had been made free to find my home again.  Not home as a place on a map but as a space in my heart. 

 

I found home in my family, my friends, the new memories I created, and those I could let go of by confronting them.  I found home, most recently and most poignantly, in marrying my husband:  marriage being something I never thought I would do—some for feminist precepts that I held to tightly, but ultimately deep down I think I had cultivated a pervasive fear of trusting someone that implicitly with me—mind, heart, soul, and body

 

I found home in this past year in the most intimate way I could—In a family of my own, in love that gives all and allows the heart to receive all, and in learning in another that I could completely trust myself.

 

I realized in assessing my Florida move motivations that this physical move was essentially just shifting to another point on a map; the real move was a move forward to a life with my family of two plus (now) THREE dogs and an embracing of whatever is to come without fear. 

 

Trauma is like falling to the bottom of the deepest ravine or being pushed off a cliff’s edge into a frigidly cold ocean.  It is the hardest thing to climb out of and it takes all the strength you may have and often then a bit more than that.  You create new strength and new muscles you never had before in the process and it leaves you with a new sense of fearlessness.  Once you have seen the bottom of the coldest ocean and fallen from the highest peak the rest of life’s problems pale in comparison. 

 

Do you have weak points?  There are moments.  No one is impervious to life or feelings or memories.  There are moments when I wake up with a startle or I jump when someone comes up from behind or get a chill when I see a man leering at me, but they are identified and moved beyond—they are not paralyzing and immobilizing like they once were. 

 

 I don’t see shadows in my room every time I open my eyes or sleep with the lights on or numb out, block out, or space out to avoid the pain.  I do not fear life, fear love, fear touch anymore.  I do not hyperventilate and shake from some unknown triggered memory.  I do not hate my body (most days J).  I do not categorically hate men.  I do not wait for the day when the other shoe will drop or anticipate my world falling out from under me. 

 

I can move and move on without carting all that past pain around with me.  I can talk about healing from my own perspective as well as from my “therapist” chair.  I can, when hard days come (quoting, randomly,“Sex and the City”):  “Breathe and reboot.”  I can find my center, find my quiet mind, find my yogic self that can take life in.  I can let the past go enough so that I can keep breathing, breathing deeper, and breathing in this new life, new move, new dog, and whatever else is next. 

 

I will never run away again.  And I will keep remembering to run without fear into my future.

 

 

An Arabian Dream by TAYSER on flickr

          Experience is not what happens to you;
          it’s what you do with what happens to you.

            Adlous Huxley

 

* MY STORY to be continued tomorrow with the post “Full of Sound and Fury: A Survivor’s Tale”. *

Ive got a brand new pair of roller skates by Indy Charlie on flickr

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all. Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature. 
 

Helen Keller

 

 

Having just returned from my viewing of “Whip It” with the amazingly endearing and engrossing Ellen Page as well as “riot grrl” inspiring portrayals of chicks that rock by powerhouse women in Hollywood like Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis, Eve and Kristin Wiig  I am feeling appropriately riotous.  I left wanting to do something bold and don some skates.  While the latter is unwise given bad ankles, bad balance, and all around equalibrium issues with as of yet undetermined origin the former feels like a healthy ambition.

 

I think we all should be inspired, on occassion, to do something bold, to be someone bold, and really shout to the world some truth of ourselves.  “Whip It” was an elbows out, skates on, face-your-fears-till-you’re-fearless depiction of someone forging their own path, finding their own truth, and doing it all to a rockin’ soundtrack.  How often I have thought how much easier it would be to be bold or empowered with a really amazing soundtrack blaring in the background.

 

It was the greatest infusion of filmic empowerment I had felt in a while.  I love that feeling of leaving a theatre feeling imbued with a sense of something palpable and translatable from the screen into my rapidly thumping heart and contemplating mind.  Perhaps it was a tinge of nostalgia for my alterna-punkish youth but I think it was also a sprinkling of something much more present tense.  The film was an all out, bruising to the bone reminder that you can be pushed down, punched out, and dropped on our face by life but our strengths are in bouncing back up, maybe throwing in an elbow of our own, and pushing forward to be the best of ourselves–courage despite fear.   And there is nothing like watching a woman literally throwing an elbow on screen, at least for me, to pump up the empowerment adrenaline. 

 

I was not quite sure what to do with this visceral motivation–somewhat torn between wanting to become a roller derby maven and create my own nonprofit I think I will settle somewhere in the middle for the moment, transcribing my internal invigoration via post as my own personal translation of empowerment.  As my method of “throwing elbows” (given aforementioned issues of balance and lack of phsyical skill) has always been literary in nature. 

 

And since I missed out on my Weekly List due to some technical difficulties by way of a busted computer adapter I think I will list about it with a bit of “Whip It” enthusiasm and some of my viewpoints on empowerment:

 

1) Be Bold.  Be Honest.  Be You.  These may seem like simple premises but I think, day-to-day, they can be the hardest to follow through on.  Being true to ourselves and honest about who we are both externally and internally is a life long journey but in that journey we should be able to find ways to be bold about who we are in any given moment.  Whether it be seeing “Whip It” by yourself on a Sunday just because you want to, writing into cyber oblivion because it feels necessary, or just saying how we really feel when our urge is to keep silent.  Being you in any given moment can be the boldest and most courageous thing anyone can do.

 

2)  Face Your Fears.  Whatever gives you chills or makes your stomach drop– stare it down.  Don’t let what frightens you rule you.  Now while I have not managed to do that in the arena of, say, cocroaches (yet) I actively try to push the limits of what I feel comfortable with and stretch for what might be possible right beyond my reach.  Stretch your reach.  Stop stagnation by grasping at something a little further than you think you can achieve–you might be surprised at just how far you are capable of going.  I have been, maybe more recently than ever before.  I hope I don’t stop living on the edge of the next seemingly unattainable dream–grasping at the air just a little bit further than I can see.

 

3)  Pull Yourself Up When You Fall.  So much of life is dealing with the unexpected and often unexpected blows.  Like Hellen Keller said above “Security is superstition.”  We can count on change and low points and failures but those things can be the foundation for something unexpectedly good.  The falls may change who we are and where we are headed but to be able to find the good, get back up, and throw elbows to make something out of what we have been given is real courage.  Being able to not just survive life but thrive and create something new and good. 

 

4)  (Once You’ve done #4) Help Someone Else Pull Themselves Up.  A crutial part of healing from our falls, recovering our souls and healing our aches from pain and trauma in our lives, is being able to hand some of that courage, skill, and the honesty of our own powerful story, to someone else who is struggling in their own ache.  I was discussing this very thing with the lovely and passionate Michele Rosenthal over at “Heal My PTSD” this weekend when (after finding out we live in close proximity to one another) we were able to meet up at a local Domestic Violence event.  Being able to give somebody hope and strength to pull themselves back up is just as important as being able to attain it for yourself–in my opinion–not just for the other person but for yourself. 

 

5)  Speak Out.  Speak Loud.  Be The Voice For SomeOne Who Can’t Speak For Themselves.  In an expanded follow through of #4 I think this step can be powerful for each of us and be a metamorphasis of all the prior steps into a holistic conclusion.  To be able not just to be our own journey to our own end, but to be able to move beyond ourselves to work for a greater good and a larger whole is something that is both personally fullfilling and an important contribution.  Not everyone can be their own voice, they may just not have the strength.  This could be advocating for a cause or population that brings passion to your heart or speaking against injustices in your midst or taking your own painful traumatic experiences and giving it up as representation for others that even pain can have a voice and falling is not the end of the story–teaching people that they can stand again, by example. 

 

 

In this last step I am only, thus far, a partial representative.  I am a huge advocate for PTSD treatment and am constantly trying to be a voice for those who are struggling in their own pain, but I have never yet used my story as the tool.

 

I believe in the importance (another issue I was discussing with Michele this weekend) of those who have survived and thrived in pain and trauma to come forth and stand strong for those who cannot yet do so, but at the same time I have never publically shared my story. 

 

Perhaps this is the next step of my journey and maybe in some strange confluence of events my wonderful discussion with a fellow survivor followed by a raucious “riot grrl” type movie helped to remind me that while the trauma therapist professional in me has important things to say about healing–the trauma survivor in me also has a voice that must be heard.

 

Female Boxing Champion 1926 on flickr

I do not believe in using women in combat, because females are too fierce.


Margaret Mead (a famous anthropologists and one of my first heroines as a child)

February 2020
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