The Shadows of This Life

Here’s some Emerson for you this evening all about the getting out of your own way and getting out of your own head. If you’ve got nasty little gremlins in your consciousness talking trash and making a mess, let them know in no uncertain terms that it’s time for them to take a hike.

This design is totally inspired by a stunning piece of art I found on this equally stunning blog, Pony Gold. Pay PG a visit for some new inspiration.

Ralph Waldo Emerson quote standing in ones own sunshine

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The Tender Heart or: Sociopaths Aren’t All That

2006 was kind of a rock bottom year for me. Or the year that everything started to turn around, depending on how you look at it. I was in college, feeling helpless against my eating disorder, and lost in a pretty deep, dark depression.

One of the things I remember most from that period was what my paternal grandmother told me when she found out I had been struggling. Holding me in her arms and shaking me a little for emphasis, she said, “We’re survivors.

She said, “Every facet of your being, and of your hurt and pain, make you who you are.

She said, “Russians — we just feel, emote, to such a great extent; we’re very emotional people. Very happy or very sad; laughing one moment, crying the next.

She was half Russian. Me? Only an eighth. But I guess a little goes a long way.

A hug from Grandma on my wedding day | Credit: Briana Cichuniec

That was eight years ago, and she’s been gone for two summers. But I remember the things she said because I copied them into my diary right away. I knew then that they were important, that they held some very simple but very profound answers for me.

See, Grandma was what some people would call a sensitive person. I guess I am too.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m a textbook Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). I just mean that I really internalize whatever’s being dished out around me, you know?

When someone else in my general vicinity is not right, I definitely do not feel right. Just a whiff of conflict and my body goes into full fight or flight. I get anxious — a lot. A gruff interaction with a stranger on the subway will stay with me for hours. If one of my mistakes adversely affects another, I can assure you that I’ll have sleepless nights over it for years. And yes, I can go from laughing to crying at the drop of a hat.

All too often, my first instinct is to assume that any unpleasantness is my fault. I’ve done something wrong. They’re mad at me. I need to fix this.

Which of course is rarely the case! First of all, not everything is about me (thank the universe). And second, everything can’t be perfect all the time (thank the universe).

Still, it’s overwhelming to feel this much, and it can’t just be turned off, however hard I try.

I’ve known a person or two whose dispositions trend towards sociopathy, and I’d be lying if I said I’d never once wished that I were more like them. I mean, it must feel pretty freeing, in a way, to have no concept of other people’s feelings whatsoever. But who would really want that?

I was talking about all of this with the incredible soul that is my aunt. See, my grandma is her mother, and she too knows something about being a sensitive person. Then she said this:

high cost for a tender heart | MindBodyPlateThere’s a high cost for a tender heart; but it’s worth it.

And you guys, she’s totally right. I may struggle sometimes with the kind of pain that tends to seep through thin skin, but I’ll be damned if I’m not squeezing every inch of feeling out of this one life I have to live.

And let’s not forget that the sensitivity causing me trouble is the very same sensitivity that makes me an empathetic listener; a helpful coach; an intuitive yoga teacher; a kind leader, and a caring and thoughtful friend to those I love.

Every piece of art I’ve ever created, on stage or on paper, has been informed by my ability to feel things deeply — to feel sad like I never thought I could feel sad; to feel joy like I never thought was possible.

And for that I am grateful. Even for the pain.

What about you guys: Do you sometimes wish that you had a thicker skin? Has anyone ever told you that you were being “too sensitive”? What are the overlooked benefits of being you, exactly as you are, tender heart and all?

Balancing Omega-3 & Omega-6

We hear again and again about the benefits of essential fatty acids in the diet, particularly omega-3s. But what’s the difference between omega-3 and omega-6? If you prefer visual learning like me, you’ll love this explanatory info-graphic, which I based on an article by Andrew Weil, M.D. with complimentary research from The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health in Washington, DC. omega-3 omega-6 balance infographic - MindBodyPlateCheck out the two pie charts at the bottom: the left is what our Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio should look like (1/1), and the right shows a fairly generous average ratio for a Western diet (15/1). Yikes! We’re pretty far off, and yet it’s so important that we strive to lower that ratio. In their academic article, The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids, Simopoulos explains that a lower omega-6/omega-3 ratio is effective in “reducing the risk of many of the chronic diseases of high prevalence in Western societies, as well as in the developing countries, that are being exported to the rest of the world.” In particular:

  • “In the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease, a ratio of 4/1 was associated with a 70% decrease in total mortality.”
  • “A ratio of 2.5/1 reduced rectal cell proliferation in patients with colorectal cancer.”
  • “The lower omega-6/omega-3 ratio in women with breast cancer was associated with decreased risk.”
  • “A ratio of 2-3/1 suppressed inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.”
  • “A ratio of 5/1 had a beneficial effect on patients with asthma.”

The clinical benefits of increased omega-3 can also be seen in:

  • Heart Disease
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Brain Trauma
  • Chronic Pain
  • Osteoporosis
  • Skin Disorders
  • Fertility
  • Fat Loss

Because the western diet is overflowing with omega-6 fatty acids, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is simple: just eat more omega-3s. Eat more salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, black cod, and bluefish. Or buy a high-quality fish or krill oil (mine is a liquid that is extra purified for safety and tastes like lemon). Vegetarian sources such as flax seeds and walnuts are wonderful too, just remember the body has to go through the extra step of converting them to EPA and DHA (the two critical kinds of omega-3s). How much is enough? Well, in a lecture I attended by Dr. Barry Sears, he gave the following guidelines:

  • Everyone would benefit from: 2-2.5 g (2,000-2,500 mg) per day
  • For those suffering from obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease: 5 g (5,000 mg) per day
  • For those battling cancer and chronic pain: 7.5 g (7,500 mg) per day
  • For those with neurological disease: >10 g (at least 10,000 mg) per day

Ideally, one would consume a fish oil or omega-3 supplement in conjunction with anti-inflammatory meals, moderate exercise, and stress reduction techniques. As always, remember that I am not a medical professional nor a registered dietitian. Please consult your physician before making any abrupt changes to your diet. References: Simopoulos, AP (2002). The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother. 56(8), 365-79. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12442909

MBP Daily Three: When Your Lucky Underpants Don’t Help

MBP3 IS A SERIES DEDICATED TO WALKING THE WALK. WHAT ARE 3 THINGS YOU’VE DONE TODAY TO NOURISH YOUR MIND, YOUR BODY, & YOUR PLATE?
calvin and hobbes lucky rocket ship underpants

From Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Woof. Some days, you’re just so, totally down in the dumps. I knew a girl who called it “going to her dark place.” Luckily, the MBP Daily Three is a tool you can use to pave the way toward a better tomorrow, no matter how you feel today. It’s easy to remember: just check off one thing you’ve done today to nourish your mental health, your physical health, and your nutritional health (mind, body, and plate). The MBP3 might not turn your whole day around, but a little bit of self-care today may do a great deal of good in the long run.

Body: My handsome, bearded husband took the day off for a doctor appointment. Though he practically had to drag me out of the house, we ended up going for a short run through the neighborhood together. My brain was doing this weird thing where I thought if I couldn’t go run a 10k, then I shouldn’t run at all (being a perfectionist is really special sometimes). In the end, I just had to strong arm my way through that resistance and get out there. And don’t think I forget for one second how lucky I am to have a partner who can kindly nudge me in the right direction when I’m getting in my own way.

Photograph by Nicole Franzen for Gardenista

Photograph by Nicole Franzen for Gardenista

Mind: Our new neighborhood in Brooklyn is home to this cool little business called Sycamore Bar & Flower Shop. It’s, well… a bar attached to a flower shop. They’ve got all kinds of beautiful moss and ivy creations hanging in glass terrariums in the windows, along with gorgeous and unique flowers littering the mason-jar-filled space. After our run, we stepped inside just to have a look around. There was something about taking in the delicate beauty of some of those little succulents and air plants that demanded mindfulness. And practicing mindfulness helped lift my mood. Maybe we just ducked into a little bar and flower shop, but in some way it felt like a tiny trip to some sort of Midsummer Night’s fairyland, and it shook up my day in just the right way. It’s interesting how the smallest things can affect one’s perspective.

Plate: Finally, we stopped at the health food store, and I pulled up a recipe for red lentil coconut soup that I’ve been eyeing on Pinterest for a while. I took my time perusing the store, an enjoyable pastime for me in itself, and gathered the ingredients to make the dish. The truth is, I may not even make it tonight; I may just not have it in me. But I’ll be able to make it tomorrow. And somehow, just knowing that I have all of the ingredients to make such a rich and healthy meal makes me feel more at ease.  No matter what happens, I know I have some rewarding nourishment coming my way.

Will you tackle your MBP Daily Three even when it seems like a futile undertaking? Who are the people in your life you can turn to for a gentle nudge in the right direction? Let me know in the comments below, and have a lucky rocketship underpants kind of day.