Monthly Archives: February 2016

What to do with an extra day.

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My wish for you all is instead of  using tomorrow as a day for “more pressure” (like Mooch the cat), how about treating it as a day to notice what happens in each moment without judging it. Is it pleasant, unpleasant or neutral?  If the moment by moment experiences are challenging, I invite you to meet them with compassion and wishes for peace for yourself and others. If the experiences are pleasant (or even neutral), I invite you to meet that with appreciation.   In any case, have a peaceful, happy Leap year.

My unexpected opportunity for a more mindful life.

Today I was feeling grateful that my arm has healed pretty well after rotator cuff surgery. It’s been four months since the surgery.  From this vantage point it doesn’t seem that long ago. But I remember back in November when the Dr. said I wouldn’t be able to drive for 6 weeks and I thought it was an eternity.  Well I’m way past that, enjoying pretty much full use of my arm.  Yay!

But as I was thinking in hindsight, I wondered what I was so worried about regarding the length of recovery.  The honest answer was that I just didn’t want to slow my life down.  I felt annoyed and scared at the prospect of doing errands or tasks one at a time.  I didn’t want to have to pay attention to my movements and actions.  Interesting huh?  This mindful life guide didn’t like the idea of living the way I try to help others embrace.

One thing that worried me was that the current culture doesn’t support a slower, more mindful life.  There seems to be an underlying urgency that is really hard to buck.  Doing only one errand a day or one task at a time seems ludicrous and/or self-indulgent. I imagined feeling “less than” or “impaired” somehow by not being able to keep up the “normal” pace. I didn’t like loosing the feeling of control over my life that I enjoyed so much.

I also knew that moving slower would have the effect of not being able to block unpleasant feelings.  Feeling productive always feels good, right? If you feel something uncomfortable, get moving.  Take your mind off of it.  I knew that moving slower would increase my sensitivity to my own mental suffering.

I was also sure that it couldn’t be done.  Up until the surgery, out of deference to mindfulness, I had slowed my life down as much as I thought humanly possible.  I felt that there was no way I could be more deliberate.  It was my mind that got in the way. How could I do less?  I imagined that I’d look and feel like a sloth.

But luckily, I had a legitimate excuse to slow way down.  If I wasn’t mindful about my movements, I could undo the surgery.  If I over did actions, I could hurt myself.  I had to see what it was like to REALLY take one thing at a time and be mindful of that one thing.

In retrospect, I’m grateful for the opportunity given to me by my torn rotator cuff.  I had the chance to  overcome my discomfort and fears about what I thought an even more mindful life would be like.  In general, I am less hurried than I was this time last year (when I tore my rotator cuff). And I don’t feel as “slothish” about it.  I’m more in the habit of doing one thing a day and one task at a time.  Don’t get me wrong, I sometimes eat and read the paper.  Or I fold clothes and watch tv.  But more often than not I’m drawn to just pay attention to the one thing I’m doing. And the worries about feeling uncomfortable feelings more acutely? Well I actually feel the pleasant ones more acutely too.  So it balances out.

A teacher recently told me that this kind of life is really good for the nervous system.  And that the nervous system likes it.  He said once the nervous system has a chance to feel the benefits of it, it will seek this kind of feeling over and over.  I think that’s where I am now.  I’d rather just write the blog, not write the blog and text a friend.  Or I’d rather just watch a movie, not watch and check my emails.  It feels less complicated now and I’m grateful.

My wish is that you could try this way of being for a day or two (without having  to have surgery).  I hope that you’ll find the peace of living more mindfully and that your nervous system will purr.

Be well.

It’s been a while.

Hi Folks, I’ve been pretty busy setting up new classes.  I know.  It’s no excuse for not checking in.  Today I teach my 6 week mindfulness class at the community center that just started, then I head over to Mo’s class to continue to teach them. The lesson in Mo’s class is heartfulness. It means being mindful of one’s heart. Noticing the good, cultivating peace and being aware of how it affects your heart. Sometimes it’s pretty subtle so you really have to take time to listen. But to me it’s what makes life worth all the struggle. I always feel really happy after I teach it. May you all find happiness in your day.  <3

And if you’re interested check out my upcoming classes at the Millbrae, California Community Center.  I’d love to see you.

Helping children with their emotions.

How to Teach Frustration Tolerance to KidsPin ItA mother of a six-year-old boy called me in tears. After yet another meltdown in his classroom, the teacher requested a meeting with the parents. The mother assured me that her son is sweet, funny and very bright. He’s the life of the party at home and has tons of friends. The meltdowns, she thought, paled in comparison to the rest of his personality.

The problem, of course, is that the meltdowns affected his ability to learn. When her son encountered something frustrating, he “flipped a switch.” He went from happy and engaged to angry and screaming in an instant. This pulled the teacher away from the class, negatively affecting the entire kindergarten classroom.

It didn’t take long to determine that it wasn’t so much that he “flipped a switch” when he encountered something hard, but that the buildup of frustration over time resulted in huge meltdowns when he finally hit his tipping point. He was missing his anger cues throughout the day, and that caused a flood of emotions when he confronted something particularly frustrating.

Many young children struggle with frustration tolerance. Anger and frustration are powerful emotions, and children’s reactions can be intense in the moment. As adults, we know when our anger buttons are pushed. We know what we need to do to work through something frustrating in an appropriate manner. Kids, however, don’t enter this world with a pocket full of frustration management skills.

Developing coping strategies to deal with frustration requires time and practice.

The good news is that parents can help kids build frustration tolerance skills at home. With a little bit of guidance (and a lot of patience), you can teach your little one how to cope when the going gets tough.

Try a little body mapping. Young children don’t make the connections between their bodies and their emotions. I know, for example, that a sore neck means I’m under stress. Given that knowledge, I can take a moment to figure out what I need to do to decrease my stress level. Children struggle to draw those conclusions. They might experience sore muscles from clenching their fists, but they won’t stop to think about how their emotional states contribute to those sore muscles.

Body mapping is one of my favorite strategies from “The Happy Kid Handbook” because it helps kids of all ages. Draw the outline of a person (or if you’re like me, Google and print). Ask your child to think about all the places on his body that feel sore or different when he’s mad. You might point out that your heart races when you’re mad, and that makes your head feel dizzy. Doing this exercise with your child is important. Color all of those places red. Tell your child that when those places start to feel red, his body is signaling him to get help in a frustrating moment.

Learn about triggers. All kids are different and no two will have the exact same triggers of frustration, but there are a few common triggers to watch for:

  • transitions
  • negative peer interactions (or perceived negative interactions)
  • challenging academics (yes, even in preschool—cutting with scissors can be very frustrating)
  • feeling misunderstood by adults or peers
  • lack of control
  • hunger
  • exhaustion
  • unexpected situations

You can help your child understand his specific triggers by keeping a trigger tracker. When you talk about a frustrating situation with your child, make a note of what happened just prior to the event, the time of day and what was happening when the meltdown occurred.

Create a mad list. When my son was younger, a mad list was the secret to helping him vent his frustration. Young children need to vent (just like adults), but they don’t yet know how to do that. Screaming and flailing feels good in the moment, so they go with what works.

Ask your child to name all of the things that make him mad. Write down his list on a piece of paper while he vents his emotions. Provide empathy and understanding while you do this. Kids need to feel understood, and a simple, “Ooh, that makes me mad, too!” shows that you get it. Once the list is complete, ask your child to tear it into tiny pieces (this provides a much needed physical release of emotion) and throw them in the air. Then collect the pieces together and throw them out for good.

Teach the stoplight with deep breathing. You’ve probably heard a lot about the power of deep breathing lately, and for good reason. When done properly, deep breathing can calm a child’s senses and help that child work through a frustrating event without resorting to screaming.

The best time to practice deep breathing is when you’re both calm. Until they get the hang of it, kids have a tendency to associate deep breathing with rapid breathing, which has the opposite effect.

Ask your child to sit comfortably and relax his muscles. Count to four while your child inhales, count to three while your child holds his breath, and then count to four while your child exhales. Repeat several times and practice regularly (bonus tip: this also works wonders for worriers). I like to have my kids “breathe the rainbow” by picturing one color with each breath while visualizing their favorite things in that color (strawberries, cherries and bouncy balls, oh my!)

Next, teach the stoplight. All kids know that red means stop, yellow means slow down, and green means go. Take it a step further by teaching them to visualize a red light to stop in a moment of frustration. This is when they can tap into deep breathing to calm their minds and bodies. When they shift to a yellow light, they should think of three possible solutions (Ask the teacher for help? Try again? Ask a friend?). When they visualize the green light, they can pick an option and move forward. Go ahead and create a big stoplight out of construction paper to tape to your fridge for reference. Over time, this process will become second nature and the meltdowns will fade away.

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