Saturday, January 23, 2010

Thrilled 2B Teaching Yoga for Mood Today

I've been preparing for months for our "Yoga for Mood" workshop today at Yoga Kula in Berkeley. Looks like we'll have a full house of women, from beginner yoga practitioners to serious yoginis, and I'm deeply honored by the robust registration. We'll be covering PMS, post-partum depression, seasonal affect disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety and garden-variety mood swings. The focus is on natural solutions and the use of yoga to buffer mood.

There's still room! Register right here online or join us today at 1:30pm. We also have two more workshops coming up at Yoga Kula and another next month at the Claremont Resort in Berkeley. Click here for more details.

As I refining the sequence this morning at 6am by the fire in my home, I was reflecting on the integration of Eastern traditions with the wisdom of our Western experience, and how this integration may positively impact mood. In Yoga, as in most ancient Eastern traditions, we learn about unconditioned awareness. We learn about how to use meditative practice and direct the flow of prana to awaken. We change long-standing and stuck neural pathways, and create new neural networks that support our awakening to True Self.

Our Western tradition regarding psychology and mood is completely different: here we use therapy and other techniques to individuate, to understand more fully our drives, conflicts, interpersonal dynamics and learned habits, from childhood to later life.

Yet these two systems are complementary and even interdependent. One of my teachers, Dr. John Welwood, PhD, describes the interplay of the Eastern and Western systems as similar to the in and out breath. Western is the "in" breath: focus on form, individuation; Eastern is the "out" breath: letting go of form, history, individual characteristics in the service of the greater Self. We start the integration with the slow, directed breath of lengthening the inhale and exhale.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Detoxing with MLK: Day 6

Here's what we really need to detox out of our hearts and minds, from Martin Luther King, Jr:

"There is something wrong with our world, something fundamentally and basically wrong. I don't think we have to look too far to see that. I'm sure that most of you would agree with me in making that assertion. We haven't learned how to be just and honest and kind and true and loving. And that is the basis of our problem. The real danger confronting civilization today is the atomic bomb which lies in the hearts and souls of all people, capable of exploding into the vilest of hate and into the most damaging selfishness - that's the atomic bomb that we've got to fear today."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Heed the Call

I've been thinking for a few years about writing a book for women about Joseph Campbell's Journey of the Hero, but hip & irreverent and aimed at helping us transform our lives, find deeper meaning, sustain us through the depletion of motherhood, etc.

A new book comes close: Jim Gordon, MD's Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression. But many women won't read it because it's about depression, so I still need to write my book.

In the meantime, let's talk about that seven-stage trip of the heroine. Here it is, paraphrased from Joe Campbell (who discerned these steps from scriptures and myths) and Jim Gordon, MD.

  1. The Call: Awareness that we need to change, not in a small way but a huge way. We realize we're 20-50 pounds overweight. We get diagnosed with pre-cancer of the breast. We tired of being chronically overwhelmed and overbusy. We can't take another day of PMS. Some kind of journey is ahead.
  2. Guides: Finding and selecting those who can help, can augment our recovery; those people that provide synergy to the development of our own intuition and inner wisdom.
  3. Surrender to Change: Figuring out what we need to let go more fully, how to take off the shoes that are too tight and get a pair that actually serve you....
  4. Demon Facing: How do we identify the challenges - the reasons we overeat, the reasons we don't nurture ourselves, the reasons we overschedule. Perfectionism, being ruled by the inner authoritarian, the erosive effects of resentment. Identifying through this process "the unique daimon, the source of our own meaning, purpose and direction," according to Jim Gordon, MD.
  5. The Dark Night of the Soul: the only way to heal the pain is to go straight through it - as Jim writes, "Allowing and inviting the deepest life-giving freedom to emerge  as we move through the despair that may come to any of us."
  6. Spirituality: The Blessing - this is the realization that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity and transform our lives. Does not require belief in God, can be a belief in Unity, Peace, Higher Self, or whatever your conception of a higher power is.
  7. The Return: Re-learning how to live abundantly, joyously, drunkenly alive once again, consciously connected to ourselves and others.
Jim Gordon then provides a chapter on each of these steps in a path toward healing from depression. I'm using this 7-Step Healing Journey to perform a full-body cleanse. What is your Call to Action?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Week 1: The Pre-Cleanse & Supplements

We were thrilled to welcome 20 friends to our office yesterday for the start of our 28-day Cleanse. We got tasked with clearing out gluten, dairy, caffeine, and alcohol over the next seven days as part of the "Pre-Cleanse" as well as starting the Detox supplements to prepare our liver and gut for the job ahead. Did you start your morning today with a cup of warm, filtered water with a quarter of yummy Meyer lemon? 

We start in earnest with our full Cleanse next week, on Jan 20, and the next seven days allow us to transition off of the toxins we've been using somewhat gradually. While this blog post is primarily aimed at those who have joined our Group Cleanse, you can also join us virtually both on the blog, on Twitter, and take the supportive supplements (ordering information is below).

Yesterday there was a great question on Detoxification: why bother with detox supplements to support the Cleanse? I thought I'd spend a moment giving the liver's job description and listing the functions of the supplements that support the job. I really believe that you understand the biochemical underpinnings, even in broad strokes, you'll be more motivated and derive a better outcome. First we'll talk about the liver and then I'll fill in the gaps on how the detox supplements help you.

Job: The liver takes harmful (such as alcohol) and more benign substances (such as estradiol, the most common estrogen until about age 50), and converts these substances typically from fat-soluble to water-soluble so that you can remove them in your urine, stool or bile. You have a bazillion enzymes in the liver that act on these substances.

Break it down for me, please. There are two steps to the liver's daily task - Phase 1 and Phase 2. A toxin enters Phase 1 in the liver (the P-450 cytochrome system) and is reduced to smaller metabolites, which then move onto Phase 2, where the are bound to glutathione, glycine and sulfate. This new now non-toxic metabolite can be excreted in the bile, urine or stool.

Phase 1, in other words, either neutralizes a toxin or metabolizes a toxin to an intermediate form that is then neutralized in Phase 2. The mechanism used in Phase 1 include the chemical reactions of oxidation, reduction and hydrolysis, and these processes produce free radicals which may damage liver cells. Antitioxidants (Vitamin D, resveratrol, etc) reduce the damage. If there are lots of toxins and not enough antioxidants, the risk is much higher, and sometimes potentially carcinogenic substances may be made.

Phase 1 and/or Phase 2 detox pathways may be overloaded or otherwise not working well. Particularly bad (aka, perfect storm conditions) exist when an ill person has an overload of toxins coming into Phase 1, and then Phase 2 is inefficient. This can lead to chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, drug intolerance, and chemical/environmental sensitivities, as well as other not-fun conditions.

A little more info on Phase 1: when it's inefficient or overloaded, you may experience intolerance to caffeine as well as scented products.  Overactive Phase 1 folks will be unaffected by caffeine. Here are things that activate Phase 1 detox:
  • food: brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage; high-protein diet, oranges/tangerines, charcoal-broiled meats
  • alcohol, sulfa drugs, nicotine in cigarette smoke, steroids (including estrogen)
  • environmental: paint fumes, carbon tetrachloride, exhaust, dioxin, pesticides
  • supplements: vitamin C, niacin (B3) 

Phase 2 is also known as the conjugation pathway -- this means that liver cells add a little something (cysteine, glycine, sulfur) to the substance that is coming in. This makes the substance dissolve in water, and then you can get rid of it in urine, bile or stool. For things to work optimally here in Phase 2, you need the amino acids taurine and cysteine as well as additional nutrients (glycine, choline, inositol). This is where the detox supplements come in!

A side note about bile: you make it in phase 2, and normal folks make a quart per day! Bile is the truck that drives the toxins out of your system into the intestines. What's important here is that the bile gets absorbed by fiber and excreted. Low fiber-diets lead to poor binding of the toxins, and the toxins get re-absorbed.  This now helps you understand why we are adding more fiber both with whole foods and a fiber supplement starting on January 20 (day 8).

Take a wild guess at what's in the Detox support packets: potent doses of taurine, cysteine, glycine, inositol, taurine, MSM, Vitamin B6 & 12, Vitamin C, antioxidants, and several other co-factors that help the liver such as biotin, selenium, zinc. These make Phase 1 and Phase 2 Detox pathways operate more efficiently and clear out lingering toxins. We haven't yet talked about the gallbladder, but several additional botanicals such as dandelion root, artichoke and beet extract help both the gallbladder and the liver with detoxification. The twice/daily Detox support packets prepare the liver and gut for the full Cleanse. The supplement helps to minimize damage from free radicals while revving up (or upregulating) the Phase 1 and Phase 2 liver detoxification pathways. You'll also get from the supplements improved digestion of fats and fat-soluble substances. You'll take the Detox supplements for one month. 

If you are interested in joining our Cleanse virtually, call or email our office and order the Detoxification Support Packets ($90 for a 30 day supply). Click here to order online or to visit our website. Our next Group Cleanse will begin March 17, 2010.

Detoxification is a very complex biochemical system, and I've oversimplified much of it in the service of making it more accessible. If you have questions, please post them in the comment section.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Dr. Charlotte Kasl's 16 Steps of Recovery

Who does not need recovery? Anyone? We've all been traumatized, some seriously and some less seriously but no less destructively. As I search for ways to heal myself and others from the inevitable traumas life throws our way, I found myself in 2008 drawn toward the 12-Step process. Initially I sought relief from my food issues - I like chocolate a little too much, and I wanted to loosen its hold over me. I like my body at 125 pounds, but I suffer and obsess too much when my weight climbs higher.

I wanted a more expansive view. I wanted to clear the head space that thinking about my weight consumes and fill it with more nourishing self-talk. I didn't want to wake up every morning bargaining with myself over what I would eat or not eat. I wanted to exercise for fun rather than for the endless calorie calculations I used to perform. I wanted what you might call... recovery.

Many have found solace and recovery in 12-Step Programs: Overeaters Anonymous, Food Addicts Anonymous, Food Addicts, as well as the earlier generations of recovery found in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

As I immersed myself in 12-Step work with my doctor/healer hat as well as my addict hat, I found that it offers tremendous spiritual growth, a field guide to living a life that is "happy, joyous and free," and recovery from addictions of all kinds.

To be honest, though, my experience with 12-Step has been mixed. Mostly, I object to the patriarchal, anachronistic, and heavily dogmatic Christian vibe of the literature. There is also a lot of controversy about whether food may be actually an addiction. I'm not sure where the line exists between food addiction vs. a sticky relationship with food vs. normal eating behavior.  Are we all somewhere along a continuum from "normal" (my friends who eat one bite of chocolate cake and are satisfied) to "crazy" ("I kept slicing off small slices of that cake, and before I knew it the whole damn thing was gone!")? Science doesn't help us too much with this, but I digress.

One reason for my ambivalence is that the 12-Step main message: we are self-centered jerks before recovery, and our physical problem of being addicted to sugar (or alcohol, or sex, or debt) requires a physical, emotional and spiritual solution. So far, so good. But the path to working the 12-Steps often offends and irritates me. For instance: take ego deflation. The idea in 12-Step is that ego deflation is the only path to recovery. Here is where I see a few options. Traditional 12-Step has us perpetually catalog our character defects, accept blame for our part in any conflict we are part of, and own it. There is some risk here, especially for women who are trauma survivors and have eroded self-esteem. Dr. Charlotte Kasl, PhD shares my concerns about 12-Step and offers an alternative.

Dr. Kasl offers believes that recovery must include an awareness of the patriarchal and political systems that contribute to addiction and co-depency. She offers an alternative to the 12-Steps (listed below) that urges addicts and those of us with dependency issues to "take charge of their lives and examine beliefs, addictions and dependent behavior in the context of living in a hierarchical, patriarchal culture."

Here are her 16 Steps of Recovery....

1. We affirm we have the power to take charge of our lives and stop being dependent on substances or other people for our self-esteem and security.

Alternative:  We admit/acknowledge we are out of control with/powerless over _________ yet have the power to take charge of our lives and stop being dependent on substances or other people for our self-esteem and security.

2. We come to believe that God/Goddess/Universe/Great Spirit/Higher Power awakens the healing wisdom within us when we open ourselves to that power.

3. We make a decision to become our authentic selves and trust in the healing power of the truth.

4. We examine our beliefs, addictions, and dependent behavior in the context of living in a hierarchal, patriarchal culture.

5. We share with another human being and the Universe all those things inside of us for which we feel shame and guilt.

6. We affirm and enjoy our intelligence, strengths, and creativity, remembering not to hide those qualities from ourselves or others.

7. We become willing to let go of shame, guilt, and any behavior that keeps us from loving ourselves and others.

8. We make a list of people we have harmed and people who have harmed us, and take steps to clear out negative energy by making amends and sharing our grievances in a respectful way.

9. We express love and gratitude to others, and increasingly appreciate the wonder of life and the blessings we do have.

10. We learn to trust our reality and daily affirm that we see what we see, we know what we know, and we feel what we feel.

11. We promptly admit to mistakes and make amends when appropriate, but we do not say we are sorry for things we have not done and we do not cover-up, analyze, or take responsibility for the shortcomings of others.

12. We seek out situations, jobs, and people that affirm our intelligence, perceptions, and self-worth and avoid situations or people who are hurtful, harmful, or demeaning to us.

13. We take steps to heal our physical bodies, organize our lives, reduce stress, and have fun.

14. We seek to find our inward calling and develop the will and wisdom to follow it.

15. We accept the ups and downs of life as natural events that can be used as lessons for our growth.

16. We grow in awareness that we are sacred beings, interrelated with all living things, and we contribute to restoring peace and balance on the planet.

More Stress Resilience in 2010

Thought I'd edit and augment a recent entry from my January e-newsletter on creating resilience. Interestingly, there was a post 2 days later at on resilience, so I added it here at the end to help deepen your connection to creating more buoyancy this year.

Proven Ways of Creating More Resilience

While hanging out with a friend on New Year's Day, we discussed our "word of the year" for 2010. She chose "rebirth" -- she has a crazy busy life with kids, and wants to create work that serves her better. Meanwhile I struggled to find a single word that captures all I am yearning for this year. Stability? Yes, but so not sexy. Hard to get traction with that word. Acceptance? Sounds defeated.

Resilience is my 2010 word. Yes, my adrenals are more saggy than my boobs. I'm perimenopausal at the same time as my eldest daughter hits puberty, which is a dangerous combo. Perimenopause is associated with your stress resilience getting cut in half. My thyroid works only halftime. But this is the year that all the previous work settles, integrates, synergizes and collectively my organism develops deep, fulfilling, rejuvenating resilience.

While on vacation, I find it. Last August - the recipe for resilience was intense flow yoga daily 90 min/day followed by eating amazing al fresco, local, organic meals with family and friends in Point Reyes. Buoyant. Last year - it was when my family joined me on a yoga retreat I taught in Mexico. Two weeks ago, it happened when I had a day off from work and got immersed in the flow of an intense, superbly-taught class at the Dailey Method - bliss combined with creative surge... a transcendent experience.

Resilience is the ability to recover readily from adversity, illness, mood swings or the like. Buoyancy. Deep knowing that change and adversity are to be expected, and being OK with that. Rolling with the punches of life.

What helps? Mindfulness, deep abdominal breathing, dancing, eating as if the Buddha (or your fave enlightened being) was coming to dinner, moving your body in a way that thrills you. Mind/Body Medicine as my early mentors at Harvard Medical School called it. Eliciting the relaxation response that Dr. Herb Benson, MD described when I was 7.

When my babysitter announces her car won't start and she's late to pick up my kids, and I have three more patients to see before I can help her, resilience is needed. Plan A is to get anxious, feel overwhelmed, get flooded by cortisol, adrenaline, epinephrine. Plan B is to say, "This is what I can do...." And put my hands on my belly, take a 5-second inhale. Pause. Exhale for 10 seconds. Repeat. Notice my cortisol responding to my breath. Noticing my calming neurotransmitters (GABA, serotonin) rising.

Other approaches are proven to help, but they are less effective. Adaptogens such as rhodiola, ashwagandha, ginseng. B vitamins (see side bar). Amino acids such as 5-HTP. Sam-e but not if you're bipolar or even a little bit bipolar. But supplements don't work as developing your spiritual practice, and you have to be careful constructing the best cocktail for your age, hormonal balance, neurotransmitters, health history.

What practice best supports your resilience? Hiking in nature? Walking on the beach?  A long weekend at a spa? A yoga workshop? Wishing you abundant, nourishing resilience in 2010.

You will experience setbacks. If you've suffered one recently, you may still be reeling, feeling helpless and hopeless. But a crisis can also bring you face-to-face with what really matters. Crisis can clarify, illuminate and force you to take notice of what you might have otherwise missed. It can show you brilliant qualities of yourself that you may not have discovered otherwise. It is often an opportunity to feel discomfort and work it through into a place of greater comfort or understanding, to help you find your true strength.

1. Know that everything you are feeling is absolutely valid.

2. Give yourself the time to feel your feelings deeply. It helps to have someone sit with you and listen to your experience objectively. Ask her not to tell you that "It's going to be okay." Just ask her to sit with you and be curious about what you're feeling. Sharing your feelings will help to dissipate them.

3. When you are ready to feel something new, focus on the moments in your life that still create positive emotions in you. Talk about these moments. Feel these moments. Write these moments down. Hold on to them tightly. They are the platform from which you can move forward.

4. Make an effort to do one activity each week that will provide an opportunity to create and celebrate strong-moments.

5. Surround yourself with loving, compassionate companions who will support your decisions. Appreciate them.

6. Never let a crisis go to waste. Lock in valuable lessons and insights into your strengths. They will continue to serve you in life. Recall that growth follows your line of questioning, so ask yourself questions like:

"What can I learn from this?

"What is working about this?"

"Where am I feeling strong amid all of this?"

"Where can I use my strengths to help me to overcome this?"

Your questions are generative, meaning you get what you're asking about. So ask questions that create positive emotional outcomes for you.

Winston Churchill said: "When you're going through hell, just keep going." You're taking the right steps. Decide to look at a setback from a place of possibility rather than bleakness. You ARE on your way up—that's the attitude to hang on to. Focus on what's working and the steps that you're taking to reinforce the positive actions that you've already taken. Remember, attention amplifies, so focusing on self-perceived failures or mistakes will result in a spiraling effect. Focus on the emotional outcomes you want and let your attention amplify them.

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About Me

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I'm an organic gynecologist, yoga teacher + writer. I earn a living partnering with women to get them vital and self-realized again. We're born that way, but often fall off the path. Let's take your lousy mood and fatigue, and transform it into something sacred and useful.