Monday, January 31, 2011

A Gift in Honor of St. Brigid

Below is my favorite icon of St. Brigid of Kildare, my patron saint. She is holding her famous cross made of rushes in one hand, in the other is a scroll that reads:

To care for the poor

To lighten everyone’s burden

To comfort the suffering

St. Brigid, who lived in 5th century Ireland, is known for her generosity & hospitality. She inspires me to give more of myself. A rare gift we can give another is our presence, our full, non-distracted self; ie, listening to another. This is what I’m working on.

I thought I was a fairly good listener. But, in truth, in light of St. Bendict’s thoughts on listening with the heart, I realize I’m not a good listener at all. In addition, hubby & I have been reading aloud notes from a class he took on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit 5, listening empathically, really rang a bell with me, or, an alarm I should say.

When there is a conflict to be worked through with my husband or children or other family member, I realize that I Iisten to them with only my own reply in mind. I typically listen and filter their feelings through my own experiences. I listen in order to give advice, make judgments and try to figure out problems -- unasked.

What a difference it would be to just listen to another person in order to understand their perspective. Without judgement, without giving unsolicited advice, without interpreting it through my own background.

“Listen, or your tongue will make you deaf”
Native American Proverb

I’ve learned that if I truly want to hear another person, to understand the conflicts of their heart, then I need to be quiet and listen to them with empathy. I need to remove my judgments and analysis and just hear their words ...and gently affirm what they say in my own words or remain quiet.

When a person is given that freedom to communicate, to speak without fear of judgment, criticism & comparison, the heart of an issue is allowed to come forward.

I believe real listening is a rare gift.

In honor of St. Brigid, who sought to comfort the suffering, I am working on acquiring the ability to really hear another person.

...because it’s a gift worth giving.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Prayers for Moscow

My thoughts & prayers are with my brothers and sisters in Christ suffering in Moscow. May God bless those who mourn and heal the injured....and aid those who work toward justice and protecting the innocent.

The defeat of terrorism is in the hands of God.

"The darkness knows neither the light nor itself; only the light knows itself and the darkness also. None but God hates evil and understands it."

George MacDonald

The Lord's Prayer

Отче наш, Иже еси на небесех!
Да святится имя Твое,
да приидет Царствие Твое,
да будет воля Твоя,
яко на небеси и на земли.
Хлеб наш насущный даждь нам днесь;
и остави нам долги наша,
якоже и мы оставляем должником нашим;
и не введи нас во искушение,
но избави нас от лукаваго.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Emotional Wellness - Yoga & Meditation part V

“Half an hour’s meditation is essential except when you are very busy. Then a full hour is needed.”

Francis de Sales

As I mentioned in the previous post, hatha yoga has been of great help to me, both physically and spiritually, in the past two years since I first gave it a try.

My experience in this ancient eastern exercise began when my brother-in-law gifted me with a beginner’s video by Patricia Walden, pictured above. After following along with the video for the first time, I was hooked because the results were immediate. That is, the asanas, or physical poses, put my body in positions that caused muscles and ligaments to flex in ways they were unaccustomed to moving. This created a healthy boost to my circulatory system, allowing blood to flow through extremities where it sometimes pools, such as legs and the neck/shoulder area. The asanas are also a help to the lymphatic system, which, unlike the circulatory system, does not have a regulatory pump; it depends on physical movement to regulate its flow.

It helped me to realize that I didn’t have to be an expert or flexible to benefit from yoga; the practice is adaptable to limitations. I am not flexible at all and even laughed initially watching the video, but I soon discovered that even when I improvised on the asanas, I still felt the effect! ...that is, the wonderful flow of blood moving through stressed muscles created an “awakening” of sorts- that some areas, such as my neck and shoulders have less than adequate circulation (this is where a lot of stress resides!) After 50 minutes of following along with the video, I felt as good as if I’d had a professional massage.

For those who may be skeptical for religious reasons, owing to the fact that yoga originates in India and has a strong affinity with the Hindu religion, I would gently remind skeptics of just two things:

* Yoga is not a religion.

* One can engage yoga on different levels. To illustrate this, I like the quote found in the 44 page booklet accompanying the video:

“One can engage in yoga on many different levels; as a brief and relaxing interlude in a hectic life; as a more demanding regime for strengthening and invigorating the body; as a therapeutic practice for particular physical difficulties or ailments; or as a path to higher states of consciousness and union with the Divine.”

Taking a closer look at the “path to higher states of consciousness” theme- this is what usually makes Christians uncomfortable. My opinion is that if one is rooted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and understands what meditation is according to God, then yoga can even benefit us in this way.

Meditation, by Christian definition, is not a passive quiet time in which to empty our minds, but rather an active time of focusing our attention toward God’s Word and away from distractions. I have found this to be a challenging practice. It’s hard to be still... and especially when we’re stressed. We seek to fill our minds with distractions so as not to face difficult emotional realities, hard decisions and the like. If I can keep the wolf at bay....well, maybe he’ll decide to leave on his own. ... I sometimes reason.

What I have discovered though, is that when I press on, forcing myself to be still, as in a seated yoga pose, and think continuously of a prayer or Holy Scripture, a peace ensues --sometimes I have moments of clarity and decisions become easier. I do my best to create an atmosphere of peace for meditation by turning off the radio and phone, dimming the lights and maybe lighting a candle or incense. It takes a while for my mind to be quiet - I’m usually going over my to-do list, watching the clock or looking round at unfinished tasks. But when I use yoga, which teaches correct posture and slow steady breathing, it has a positive effect on quieting my mind. Maybe you are familiar with the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This is an example of a prayer you might use for meditation. A short prayer, reminding us of God’s Lordship over our lives and our relationship to Him.

I don’t meditate every time I do yoga, which is 2 or 3 times a week before bedtime, nor do I always incorporate yoga in meditation --my point is that it is a helpful tool. Meditation may be done anywhere at any time, but preferably when you can be in an atmosphere free of distractions. God’s Word speaks in several places about meditation and being quiet such as Psalm 131:2 “Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother.” or Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God” You might also check out Titus 3:1-2, Genesis 24:63, Psalm 4:4, Psalm 63:6-7, Psalm 104:33-34, Psalm 19:14 and Psalm 119 speaks to the importance of meditation upon God’s precepts.

“Calm me, O Lord, as You stilled the storm

Still me, O Lord, keep me from harm

Let all tumult within me cease

Enfold me, Lord, in Your peace.”

David Adam

Best wishes to you as you pursue a path toward hormonal balance and emotional health. I hope this series is somehow helpful to you. I'll post the last entry in a week or so, and give a report of my Women to Women program at 30 days.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hormonal Imbalance - Emotional Wellness part IV

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. I am not attempting to give medical advice. I am only sharing my experience and some things I’ve learned about my own health with hope it may benefit another.

This is the hardback book that came with my Women to Women program. It's a great resource, divided into 6 chapters and covering some of the issues expressed in this post as well as nutritional guidelines, detoxification and recipes.

I’m not sure why emotional health sometimes gets swept under the rug or why some consider it a social stigma to acknowledge a battle with negative feelings/thoughts and depression. Maybe it’s our culture that prizes traits such as aggressiveness, slyness and an exterior “toughness” that make us reluctant to work through it openly. I don’t know, perhaps the way we’re raised has much to do with it. What I do know is that many battle this dragon alone and sadly, turn to self-medication such as overeating, drugs, sexual promiscuity or other addictions in an effort to dull emotional pain.

How does our emotional health affect our bodies and how does one heal from chronic emotional pain? That’s what I’ve been exploring in the last many years; the first one is easier to answer than the second.

A female motivational speaker came to our area once to speak at a Women’s Conference. Her basic message was that there is a direct connection between our emotional and physical health, the quality of our life, and our capacity for talking to ourselves in an encouraging rather than negative way. When we think negatively, when we go down that spiral of uncertainty and fear, either doubting ourselves or that God really is in control, something happens in our bodies as well: stress is triggered.

Stress sends a message to the adrenal glands to produce cortisol and adrenaline. These are the substances that come in handy for that fight or flight mechanism and yet, with chronic stress, the adrenals go into overtime, producing an abundance of cortisol, which is really bad for us. High cortisol levels are linked to weight gain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, accelerated aging and suppression of the immune system. And what’s more, as we age, the ovaries are not as effective at producing hormones and call on the adrenals for back-up. The overburdened adrenal glands are hard pressed to keep up with demand. An overtaxed endocrine system = hormonal imbalance. So that’s the basic science of it.

Reducing stress and coping with chronic stress is another matter. I think, in general, that women place way too many demands on their bodies-- trying to be everything to everyone and feeling guilty by saying ‘no’ to someone who asks of our time or resources. A routine that can leave us not only exhausted, but harboring resentment as well. There was a time when I fell into bed at night, so tired from the daily events that I couldn’t even finish a prayer before falling into deep sleep. Instead of giving myself what I truly needed, I relied on caffeine and carbs to get me through the day and then crashed by nightfall. And now, as the prompting of this series indicates, my lifestyle had to change because as we age, the ramification of not giving our body what it truly needs becomes more apparent.

While some issues that create stress are out of our control, I have learned a few things over the last 3 years that have helped significantly in reducing stress and promoting emotional health: (no particular order)

Implementing boundaries is a healthy thing. Saying “no” when I know I don’t have the right amount of time or resources to help with something, reduces my stress and is a favor to the other person who deserves 100%.

Going to bed early/rising early is a better practice than staying up late/ rising late. It’s more conducive to productivity which helps to reduce stress. I’m amazed at what I can accomplish in the hours between 6:00 - 9:00 am.

Tending the garden of friendship. Making time for those special people in my life has so many rewards; I’ve finally learned that spending quality time with friends takes effort and endeavor that always seem to give back more than I put in, including a big reduction in stress.

Yoga. I know yoga is controversial in christian circles, but I’ve been reaping the rewards of this practice for several years now. I’ve never done any type of exercise that offers such immediate results as yoga*

Nurturing my relationship with Christ, striving for obedience. Prayer is a big part of this, saying morning and evening prayers -- not as I fall asleep, but in a designated area of my house, whether I feel like it or not. I’ve learned that the action often begets the feeling --it’s become a rhythmic, healthy part of my day, meeting my Heavenly Father in this way. There is peace in communion with the Father and no room for stress.

Eliminating all televised news. May sound extreme, but that constant streaming negative visual and audio stimuli is harmful to my spirit. It caused me to dwell on unhealthy things like fear, violence & wickedness which is contrary to what I’m advised to do in Philippians 4:8 - to dwell on good, honorable and pure things.

Journaling. Obviously, I love to write and I’ve found it to be very therapeutic, not just blogging, but keeping a private journal of my life and the bumps encountered along the way. It’s easier to see patterns in myself, my emotions and actions, when it’s written down before me, when I can go back and read it over several times. Identifying the roots of stress better enables me to eliminate or reduce it from my life.

Exercising outdoors. It’s been exhilarating to take hikes in our snowy cold temperatures these last few months! I think winter has become my favorite season for such hikes because if you’re going at a good pace, after a few minutes, 31º feels great. Getting my body moving, taking in the crisp air and delighting in nature is good for body, mind and spirit.

Aromatherapy. That is, using essential oils, incense or candles to brighten my mood and decrease stress. Essential oils are profiled according to several factors, such as their note in perfumery and also their effect on emotions. It probably won’t surprise you that the citrus smells, such as bergamot, orange, grapefruit, mandarin and neroli are all helpful in lifting the spirit. Sandalwood incense is burned frequently at my house not only because I savor the fragrance, but because of it’s calming and soothing quality.

Phytotherapy. (the use of plants to aid healing) It’s been my experience that certain herbs and supplements aid my emotional health, as I mentioned previously when using St. John’s Wort and now the Herbal Equilibrium supplement. I think this could even include herbal teas -- have you ever tried drinking camomile tea at the end of long day to relax? I’ll write more when I’ve taken the Herbal Equilibrium for a full 30 days, but I can tell a difference already. Similar to using St. John’s Wort, my ability to respond in a positive way to stress factors is strengthened. This is no small thing. Let me give a specific example:

Only a few days ago, when the children were out of school for yet another snow day, I took them on a hike with me. They didn’t want to go, but I insisted; we needed to get out of the house and move. It was just one of those days when they were out of sorts and misbehaving and I had to repeatedly call them on it. By the end of our 35 minute hike, they were still at it and now asking to eat out for lunch. Well, I don’t believe in granting a reward like eating out for lunch when their behavior has been bad, so I said no. Oh my! the negativity and complaints escalated at that point.

Typically, this would set off my stress button and I would raise my voice above the din in a sharp way, being completely enmeshed in the hulabaloo - giving way to anger.

But this day, I laughed. Of all things! I laughed at the ridiculousness of it, held my ground, but in a jovial way. My anger played no part in the scene and the results were favorable. The children stopped their bickering when they realized they weren’t being treated for lunch and my ability to remain peaceful, even cheerful, prompted a quicker than normal end to the whole negative scene.

Anger - 0

amy - 1

*Hatha yoga. More on this and meditation next time.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Just a little interruption in my series to let you know that Izzy's scan was good today!! Praise God!

There was no sign of cancer in her body, no tumor evident. Thank you for praying for her.
She will still have chemo- I'm not sure of the duration, but the doctors say she may still have microscopic cancer cells that didn't appear on the scan and so, they want to be cautious and
continue with chemo for a time.

Glory to God for all things!

Hormonal Imbalance - A Holistic Approach part III

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. I am not attempting to give medical advice. I am only sharing my experience and some things I’ve learned about my own health with hope it may benefit another.

As mentioned in the last post, after the bad experience with Zoloft, I revisited a website shared with me by a friend who has also run this course with hormonal imbalance. I looked at the information & articles there in a new light; my motivation to get healthy had been renewed. For hours I read every article I came across that related to my issues. I read the letters from other women, I read about the background of their clinic located in Yarmouth, Maine and I researched references and reviews outside of Women to Women, including the Better Business Bureau.

I was pleased with what I discovered about Women to Women at every turn and recommend them as a resource. I think it’s especially nice that you don’t have to sign up for anything in order to benefit from their plentiful referenced medical articles, symptoms and risk factors pages and Q&As. I did, however, decide to register my email and take their free hormonal health profile. It was a fairly brief evaluation, asking key questions about my general health, symptoms of hormone imbalance, daily living, stress factors, nutrition and exercise habits. It took into account my whole lifestyle rather than focusing on my chief PMS complaints, an approach I appreciate very much.

My results ranked in the “severe” category, meaning that the demands placed on my body are severe when compared with other women. Above average demands placed upon the body (such as high-stress job or relationship, being overweight, not getting adequate sleep, smoking, recovering from or dealing with emotional/physical trauma, poor nutrition, etc.) can overwhelm the body’s ability to balance hormones naturally. By the same token, my results also showed that I did give myself substantial support, meaning that I take measures to alleviate some stressors I have control over and make efforts to give my body what it needs, such as good foods, vitamins and exercise. My results were emailed to me and provided some good insights and basic changes I could implement to improve my health. The best part is that it’s a free service and also provided links to other articles related to my assessment results. They do sell various programs which incorporate their vitamins and supplements, but you don’t have to make any purchases in order to benefit from the learning opportunities.

On December 29, 2010, I called the toll-free number to ask about the program for hormonal imbalance. After speaking with Laura ( an English speaking, non-script reading, informed lady) for 15-20 minutes, I knew I wanted to try the program. Their policy is hard to beat --- they’ll refund your purchase price if you aren’t happy with how things are working , even if you’ve used all the vitamins/supplements! I only have to return the empty boxes they arrived in to receive a refund. That was the security which motivated me to go ahead and try it.

I’m going into my third week of taking the vitamins/supplements and I’m happy to report that I haven’t had any ill side effects thus far. I was concerned about that, naturally, because even herbal supplements and vitamins don’t agree in the same way with everyone. Years ago, it even took some trial & error for me to find a suitable prenatal vitamin during my pregnancies.

As I mentioned earlier, I had been taking a liquid multi-vitamin from Nature’s Plus called “Source of Life” multivitamin supplement -- liquid for good reason. I have trouble swallowing large pills and this was my only concern about starting the Women to Women program. The tablets are large. The vitamins/supplements arrive in single dose packages containing two multivitamins/mineral formula tabs, 1 calcium-magnesium formula tab, and 1 essential fatty acid formula (fish oil) containing the omega-3 essentials. I was assured by Laura during my toll-free call that I could crush the tablets and consume in applesauce or yogurt. This is what I’ve been doing and it works well -- all except the fish oil of course. If there was a YouTube video of me taking the fish oil for the first few days, I’m sure it would’ve entertained you. ; ‘ )

I've never taken fish oil, even though my husband has taken it for years. The size of the capsules always dissuaded me from trying it. I knew, from him, that it was good for memory/brain function, but what I didn’t know was that it is good for a whole lot of other things too! Such as: (found here)

* Heart health -- helps to reduce the risk of arrhythmia and sudden death by heart attack

* Improved concentration, memory and less likelihood of depression and reduced risk of ADHD in children

* Cholesterol & Triglycerides - by lowering triglycerides and balancing cholesterol

* Joints & Arthritis - better joint function from reduced inflammation

* Skin & Beauty - improves the health and appearance of skin, helps keep nails strong as well as hair healthy and shiny

* Immune System & Cancer -- helps to build a stronger immune system, lowered risk of breast and prostate cancer

* Digestive System - by improving intestinal health and reducing inflammation assisting those with IBS or Crohn’s Disease

* Allergies - Omega-3 fatty acid intake by mothers during pregnancy may protect babies against the development of allergies.

* Diabetes - fish oil enhances insulin secretion from beta cells in pancreas, regulating blood sugar levels.

Reading that list alone motivated me to take the fish oil. The first capsule I took, I busted open and poured the oil into a spoon. Ugh. I don’t recommend this. I tasted that powerful fish oil for 30 minutes in my mouth. The next day I opened the capsule and poured the oil into a drink of water. Ugh. That wasn’t any better at all - and so, the third day, I put that large capsule on my tongue, added a dollop of yogurt and down it went. I’ve also learned that taking the fish oil in the evening, just before supper works best for me.

In the photo above you’ll notice a separate bottle labeled, “Herbal Equilibrium”. This also came with my program since my results were in the severe category. This is an herbal supplement, in use for many years, to help the body naturally regulate hormones. I’ll write more about that as well as the literature that came with my program in the next post, but you can learn a great deal about phytotherapy (the use of plants for healing purposes) here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hormonal Imbalance - Zoloft part II

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. I am not attempting to give medical advice. I am only sharing my experience and some things I’ve learned about my own health with hope it may benefit another.

By the time my annual exam arrived in 2010 I was ready to give Zoloft (generic/ Sertraline) a try. If it would help me to function on an even keel by eliminating the wild mood swings, the brain fog, the irritability and depression/overwhelmed feelings, then yes, I will assume the risks, for the benefit seems greater now.

So at the beginning of December 2010, I had the script filled for Zoloft 50mg. I was instructed by my doctor to break the tab in half and to take it only during the follicular phase, the two weeks prior to menses or, as I became adapted to the drug, as I needed it. On December 3, I took 1/2 tab (25mg) along with my breakfast @ 10:00 am. By 11:20 am, as I was sitting still at a funeral service, my heart began to race-- 96 bpm. It is normally 72 bpm. This had never happened to me before and it was quite scary. My hands began to sweat and so I grabbed my coat and abruptly left the service, going into another area of the funeral home to walk and find a drink of water.

I’m thankful the employees there were so helpful. They talked kindly to me and fetched a bottle of water. After I paced around for about 15 minutes, my heart rate slowed down, but the pounding in my chest kept me alert that something wasn’t right. That same night I woke at 3:00 am feeling strange, a little nervous and unable to rest or even sit still. This too is something I’ve never experienced; I usually sleep very well. I walked around, drank water and read. Eventually, falling back to sleep around 4:30 am.

The next day, on December 4th, I felt better and had a conversation with a pharmacist friend who told me that Zoloft is a common drug for depression and PMS symptoms and about 20-25% of people on it report sleeplessness. I did a lot of research this day, discovering what relationship Zoloft had with Ultram/Tramadol, another drug I had a similar reaction to years ago when it was prescribed after minor surgery.

I learned that both Zoloft and Ultram increase serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for that ‘feel good’ sensation in our brains & GI tracts and that the two drugs should never be taken together. I also learned that Zoloft has a half-life of 26 hours, meaning that it would take 52 hours for this drug to be out of my system and if one continues the medication as directed, the next dose is taken before the first dose is fully metabolized. Needless to say, I didn’t take another dose of Zoloft.

I went about my day as usual, drinking plenty of water and going on my hike. I felt good and slept well on Saturday night. By the next day, on Sunday the 5th, while sitting in Divine Liturgy at 11:15 am., my heart went racing again -- this time, at 120 bpm! It’s so shocking to be sitting still, in a calm environment and experience this. What made it worse is that my young daughter was sitting beside me and became very worried when I had to excuse myself to walk outside the sanctuary and find a drink of water. I was worried about myself, too. All I could think to do was try to remain calm, walk and sip water...

Thank God, in about 5 minutes, my heart rate slowed down, but was still faster than normal. I made my way back into the sanctuary and sat with my family. My heart rate continued to be fast, with one final episode of racing which lasted a minute or two before the end of the service. I vowed to have a complete physical and never to take another anti-depressant.

Incidentally, after speaking with my pharmacist, to make note of my reaction, she recommended dissolving the remaining pills in a glass of water and pour into cat litter to throw away rather than flushing them down the toilet, as the drug can remain in the water table for days. My husband (a civil engineer who works with city sewage plants) confirmed this, that traces of prescription drugs have ben found in the water supply, as the treatment system is not designed to remove those substances. Good riddance to Zoloft.

Even though it was a bad experience, now that I have some hindsight, it helped to eliminate a path and set me on a better course. It also prompted me to find a general physician in order to have a complete physical -- which I am years overdue. What’s more, I took the opportunity to revisit a helpful resource, Women to Women, a place founded by physicians 25 years ago with a holistic approach to women’s health. Reading their philosophy really struck a chord with me:

“We pioneered the combination of alternative and conventional medicine in women’s health, bringing science and discipline to natural and preventative methods. Our practice reflects the reality of how our bodies work: everything --the physical, the mental, and the spiritual-- is connected.

Because of our focus on underlying causes rather than simply upon the treatment of symptoms, we’ve developed special expertise in hormonal imbalance, premature aging, degenerative and autoimmune diseases, nutrition and digestion, breast health, and the organic basis of depression and mood disorders.”

from the Women to Women Program Book Introduction

I’ll share my experience with Women to Women in my next post.

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