Wellness of the Heart – Part Two: Unconditional Friendship With One’s Self

How can we hold our own hearts in an embrace that completely lacks judgment and criticism? How can we hold ourselves tenderly with compassion when we stumble, fail, and fall short of perfection? Can we change our default setting from what-is-wrong with us, to what-is-right?

There seems to be a cultural admonition to be self-critical, like we would have no desire to grow and improve if we were not harshly and continuously judging ourselves. Perhaps it is an absurd fear that our natural state is somehow that of a lazy and evil person who must be monitored closely by a prison guard. Perhaps some of it comes from this view of humankind as intrinsically “bad”, and in need of vigilant bullwhipping to keep us “in line”. Regardless of the origins, which we can only speculate about, this way of treating ourselves has only brought us suffering.

Contrast this relationship with self with the idea of treating ourselves like a friend that we unconditionally love. Does our “friend” ever screw up? Does our friend ever irritate us? Sure! Do we still love and accept them? Yes.

Pema Chodron (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7s-rRMUl04I) lectures, as many Buddhist scholars do, on the concept of Maitri (pronounced “My-Tree”), which is all about self-compassion. It is about having an unconditional friendship with one’s self. It is about being kind to our selves.

Self-acceptance, self-worth, self-esteem are the terms that we psychologists like to throw around to look at this sacred relationship we have with our own hearts. We wellness professionals know that when people are not being kind with themselves that lifestyle change is much harder. Why bother if we don’t care much about ourselves? How easy it is to cease our efforts to be healthy and well when our inner-critic (http://tamingyourgremlin.com/) finds fault with how we are doing it, or the adequacy of our results.

Wellness coaching emphasizes “coaching for connectedness”, and we usually think of social connections. Perhaps wellness begins with our connectedness to self, spirit and our own hearts.

Be well, and be kind to yourself.

Photo by Michael Arloski

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Wellness of the Heart

Wellness of The Heart

Some say it is just a muscular pump in the middle of our chest. Others say it is the center and essence of who we are. Seat of all human emotion or cardiovascular electro-stimulated organ, nothing captures our imagination, hopes and fears like our heart.

I love it when science validates what we know “in our hearts”. Research now tells us that the old notion that our brain is the singular origin of emotions is no longer valid. We are one amazing interconnected being with our body, the organs within, and chief among them our heart, affecting emotions in complete concert with our brain. The communication goes both ways, from brain to heart (stop and think of something that you are worrying about or angry about and your heart rate will change), and from heart to brain. We’re also seeing that the heart may be talking to the brain more than vice-versa! http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/11023208.

As a psychologist who worked in psychotherapy and biofeedback for many years I find it very validating that the naive posit put forth by some cognitive psychologists that all emotions are caused by our thoughts has been debunked. Anyone who has ever felt that opening or constricting of “our heart” emotionally arrive before the conscious thoughts entered our “big brain” knew this holistic view of feelings to be true.

Buddhist psychologists and scholars like John Welwood (http://blog.gaiam.com/quotes/authors/john-welwood) and Pema Chodrin (please read When Things Fall Apart http://www.shambhala.com/html/catalog/items/isbn/978-1-57062-344-8.cfm?gclid=CIHE7tSr3qECFUtX2god1X1TLg)
Speak often of the what happens when our heart “breaks”. We are encouraged to see this breaking apart as “breaking open”.

Sometimes the bravest act of our lives is accepting our vulnerability, letting down the armored wall around our hearts and allowing ourselves to open. The courage to do so comes from the core of our being and the faith that we can do so and remain standing.

We’ll explore Wellness of The Heart more in upcoming posts.

Be well and heart-full!

Get a Vision! Motivation that lasts.

What gets you to put on your exercise shoes? What causes you to check out more carefully what you are choosing to eat? What helps you remember to put time for yourself on your calendar? Perhaps it’s a vision, in your mind, of you living a life that is truly healthy and well.

“Why don’t people do what they know they need to do for themselves?” Motivation, the great mystery. As a wellness consultant I’m constantly asked, “How can we motivate these people (to be well)?” Perhaps we need to be asking, “How can we help people discover what motivates them from within?”

Wellness motivation from the inside-out

External inspiration is like eating carbohydrates. A quick burst of energy, then the fire burns out. If it wasn’t good “kindling” and didn’t have something solid to ignite nearby, you don’t have a lasting “fire in the belly”. Internal motivation is all about finding that solid fuel that will sustain you when all the catch phrases, poster quips and slogans are burned up.

Fear can get you started but a vision keeps you going.

Instead of running away from death and ill-health, how about running toward being healthy and well? While fear might initiate lifestyle change, it does a poor job of sustaining it. What lasts is having a real vision of what it means for you to be healthy and well. Try this:

Construct in your own mind, a picture (like a movie scene) of you living your life to the fullest. You’re as healthy as you can possibility be, life is fulfilling and meaningful, you’re happy and feel connected to all that is around you.
• Hold that vision in your mind. Write it down and reflect upon it.
• Whenever you have an opportunity to make a choice about doing something right here, right now to be more healthy and well, let that mental picture come into your mind.
• Realize that this simple act of wellness in the present can help you get to the realization of this vision of yours in the not-so-distant future, or even be the practice of living that vision in the present moment!

Be well!

RESOURCE: http://realbalance.com/resources/articles-a-resources/cat_view/16-articles – download the article Coaching For Motivation.

Wellness Coaching Essential Ingredients

Ingredient #1
The Coaching Relationship

Last Fall in Orlando, Florida, key players in the wellness coaching world convened at the Health Coaching Executive Forum, to make sense out of this evolving field (Organized by the World Research Group http://www.worldrg.com/). I was honored to be part of the keynote panel featuring thought leaders from around the country who are critically involved in raising the standards for wellness and health coaching.

Our panel and presenters from health plans, disease management companies, hospitals and other healthcare organizations had a rich exchange of ideas. For all the differences in approaches, programs, and plans, we all agreed on one thing: the coaching relationship is absolutely essential to effective outcomes in wellness coaching. Companies who have tried the “coach du jour” approach (where a client might get a different coach on each call) never did as well as when a client had an ongoing and trusted relationship with a coach who became their ally.

“If you could have done it yourself, you probably would have already done it by now.” Pat Williams

So what makes a coach into a true ally? What makes a coaching relationship a real alliance? We might ask the question in another everyday life way: What are the qualities of someone you would want on your “lifeboat”?

I would want to know that this person:

1. Truly cares…about me, not just themselves.
2. They will be there right beside me when the going gets tough. Reliable.
3. Has the competencies to see us through the entire journey.

4. Is able to work with me collaboratively, creatively, resourcefully.
5. Is genuinely compassionate.

Who do you want in your lifeboat?

See also the 8.11.10 post on Change: https://realbalancewellness.wordpress.com/2010/08/11/change-the-paradox-of-fear-and-attraction-eight-thoughts-for-success-at-lifestyle-improvement/

For more about wellness coaching go to www.realbalance.com

Be well!  Michael Arloski

Simply Centered

You may not be a martial artist, a trained mediator, or a practitioner of Tai Chi. You may not be a trained athlete whose performance depends on how balanced they are on a ski slope or an ice rink. You may not be a professional dancer whose moves reflect what appears to be effortless grace. So, you may not be familiar with the term “CENTERING”.

“Be centered.” “Center yourself.” “Come from center.” “Move from center.” “Return to center.” “Centering practice.” Unless you are watching Kung Fu movies (and actually listening to the soundtrack), or remember what Obie Wan Kanobi was saying about “The Force” so long ago in Star Wars, you might not hear phrases like this. Yet this concept, once understood and applied, can dramatically improve your life.

You have been speaking prose all along, but didn’t know it. You have experienced what I am referring to here as being centered. When you made a decision, without anxiety, that was true to yourself, that was being centered. When you sank a long putt, a three-point shot, hit a solid line drive or threw the third strike exactly where you wanted to, that was being centered. When you twirled on the dance floor beautifully, carved your best run on a snowboard, or made the perfect cast with your fishing rod, that was being centered. You were “in the zone”. When you found a poem or piece of expressive writing just flowing out of you like liquid, that was experiencing a centered state. When you ended a relationship, not to relieve anxiety or fear, but because you knew, with calm certainty, that it was the best and right thing to do, that too was being centered.

Think of how different you life can be if you realize that becoming centered is always an option you have in every situation. Think of the effectiveness of decision-making and creativity of effort that can result from operating more from a centered state! Choose to be centered!

How do we “become” centered? Instead of it being a magical and elusive state that is hard to create again (that 15 foot putt was just luck, right?), what if centering was a skill that you developed and practiced? What if knowing how to center yourself was always accessible information that you could draw upon in conflict, leadership situations, in emergencies, and opportunities that demand peak performance?

A centered body centers the mind. Centering has a physical aspect to it, and a mental/emotional aspect. They affect each other and you can start in either domain.

Quieting your thoughts will relax your body. Nervous and fearful internal self-talk can produce muscle tension, increased heart rate, blood pressure, stomach acid production, and more. Quieting the internal chatter and soothing yourself with more positive and calm self-talk, or enhancing it with mental images of tranquil and safe, even idyllic settings has just the opposite effect on the body.

Physically you can center yourself by focusing on your breath, changing your posture, lowering your center of gravity and movement, broadening your stance, becoming more in balance. Breathe slower on each breath, and a little deeper. Close your eyes for a moment, perhaps. Sit up straight, or stand with your feet further apart, your knees slightly bent, your weight equally distributed on both feet. As you do this, especially the breathing, you’ll notice that your mind is slowing down and you are focusing more on the present moment.

Move from center. Place your right index finger in your naval…yes, your belly button! Now take your first three fingers of your left hand and place them across your belly right below your right index finger. At that level on your belly where the third finger rests imagine the point that is half-way between your belly and the skin on your back. That spot right in the “center” of you is what the Chinese call “Tan Tien”. The Japanese call it the “Hara” center. Imagine that this is where your body moves from, not up higher somewhere.

Stand like you have just mounted an invisible horse. This is the “horse riding stance” that you see all of those martial artists assume in the Kung Fu movies or in such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Keep your back relaxed but nice and straight. Look straight ahead. Now flex your knees and shift your weight back and forth from one leg to the other while keeping your feet flat on the ground. Feel very connected to the ground you are standing on. Take small steps with one foot while leaving the other one “planted”. Move so “Tan Tien” is just floating at the same level all the time.

The “horse-riding stance” is one you can feel very solid in. Someone who is centered in this stance is no “push over”! It is a stance you can move quickly from and be very flexible in. Solid, quick, flexible. Sounds like a good way to be in a conflict or a high performance situation.

The next time you are out in public and need to make an important decision, or deal with a challenging situation, just adopt this stance. When the others around you stop laughing the conflict will be over. Yes, I am kidding! Getting yourself centered physically can really help though, so try more surreptitious methods like the following.

Breathe. A good, long, slow, deep breath can do wonders. It cues your mind to come out of a tendency toward overwhelm or panic, and allows you to take in more immediate information about the situation. Sit up or stand very straight, with your feet firmly planted on the floor or ground.

Now the mental part! Think of this “Tan Tien” center in your body and adopt the ancient Samurai notion of “expect nothing, be prepared for anything.” Be aware of everything around you where you are, right here and right now in the present moment. Let the past and future evaporate. Focus on the present.

Bring your thoughts to an observation of the present situation without letting your past prejudices influence it. Take what the moment brings you without judgment. Then from that calm, centered place make a distinction between your choices, based on the values that are true to you.

Do the things that “center” you in your life. There are probably favorite activities that you like to do that produce in you this experience of centering. They are usually activities that are very healthy, that give you perspective, that refresh you and renew your soul. Do them. Do them more often. They may be as formal and consciously designed to develop your sense of center, such as the practice of Tai Chi, Yoga or meditation. They may be as simple as a walk in the park, a hike in someplace a bit “wild”, throwing pottery, gardening, or just getting together with good friends with no agenda or expectations. Do what “centers” you more often and you will have more access to “center” when you really need it!

Slimmest City in the Country = Fort Collins, Colorado

When the Fort Collins/Loveland, Colorado metro area topped the Gallup Poll research as being the least obese metro area in the United States, those of us who live here were proud, but not very surprised. It is evident that things are a bit different here…in a good way.

Gallup found that there are huge disparities across our nation when it comes to both the statistics of obesity, and the other factors that contribute to that ever-expanding bottom line. Why is it that the ten most obese metro areas have an average obesity rate of 33.8% while the ten least obese metro areas have an average rate of only 18.7%? Why does the hometown of Real Balance Global Wellness Services (Ft. Collins) have an obesity rate of only 16.0% compared with the national average of 26.5%? Why are only 5% of the residents of Boulder, Colorado challenged with diabetes and 18.9% of the folks in the Mission, Texas area currently diagnosed with it?

Looking at more than just the BMI results, Gallup explored income, health habits and access to both healthy foods and safe places to exercise. Again, there were great disparities. Check out the details at http://www.gallup.com/poll/126362/Good-Health-Habits-Norm-Slimmest-Metro-Areas.aspx?CSTS=alert .

So, what makes us so special? Many people in Fort Collins were attracted to move here to live in an area where outdoor recreation opportunity abounds, so a lot of us came here valuing healthy lifestyles. Our population, while aging like everywhere else, tends to be young. We also tend to remain active, very active. Peer health norms here are very positively skewed toward activity and healthy eating, lots of contact with nature and a high degree of social connection, perhaps the perfect formula for wellness! Most of the people I know personally, who range from their late twenties to their early sixties, are almost all actively involved in bike-riding, walking, hiking, dancing, skiing (both downhill and cross-country), and/or have a membership at a health club.

We still go to movies, have sedentary jobs, eat ice cream and pizza, but we also are just as likely to get together with friends around a planned hike, bike ride or picnic outdoors, or spend a weekend night out vigorously dancing. The peer health norms support such fun activity, it’s what folks tend to do here when they get together. Health club membership levels are very high as well. Gallup found that “Half or more of residents in all of the least obese areas report exercising for at least 30 minutes three or more days per week.”

Our city is riddled with bike paths that avoid city streets and follow rivers and creeks along scenic parklands (kudos to a city parks department with vision and state lottery funding). The foothills of the Rocky Mountains begin at the very edge of our city limits. Enough said, we do indeed have access to safe activity-oriented recreation.

Access to affordable healthy food is another factor, and having the income to spend on it. In the ten least obese areas in the country residents indicated that, for the most part they had both of these factors working for them.

Part of what puts communities like ours at the top of the list, and places like Boulder, Colorado, a close second, are sociological. Younger populations, higher than average income and educational levels probably give us advantages that we can claim little credit for. The questions to learn from that we might look at though, is how did places like us, and others in the top ten like Barnstable Town, MA, and San Louis Obispo, CA, consciously develop healthier communities? How can other communities follow suite?

Further, from the wellness professional’s perspective we need to ask, what does this information about healthy and unhealthy communities hold for us? The quick answer is “a gold mine”! We need to mine this information and look at both what works and what we wellness workers, and our clients, are up against.

We’ll be exploring these questions further in this blog. Stay tuned!

Wellness is conscious living.

May 2, 2010

We are often admonished to slow down, to relax, to be mindful, to be aware, to live our lives consciously. We are urged to remember all of this and more. To “re-member” is to become again in touch with some part of ourselves, some “member”, that we have lost contact with. Most of us human beings find all of this consciousness something hard to maintain.

When I’m asked for my absolutely shortest definition of wellness, I say that wellness is living our lives very consciously. It is as simple as realizing that there is an “off-on” switch on every electronic device we have. It is as challenging as remembering how much choice we really have most of the time.

It takes no training in meditation to be conscious. We do it everyday. We make hundreds of decisions with conscious awareness, yet it seems that we also make many with our “automatic pilot” of habit. Those decisions, traveling along heavily established neural pathways in our brains, take place with little thought. It’s like driving a car to a familiar destination, and before we know it we’ve taken the on-ramp to the four-lane highway of habit. Brain research using functional MRI imagery has shown us that these four-lane neural pathways really do exist inside our craniums and the more we drive those routes the stronger they get.

At times such freeways serve us well, saving us time, our travels being executed with energy savings. At other times we have to ask, “What else am I missing?” Or, we might ask, “Does this route (this course of action) really serve me well at this time?” ews

It is this simple self-questioning that puts us on the path to living a healthy, wellness lifestyle, and perhaps, it is what keeps us on that path. Staying on the path seems to be our biggest challenge.

So reclaim your choices. Reclaim your awareness of alternatives. Perhaps, down that secondary road, you can like I did a few days ago, witness a newborn colt trying his legs out in a springtime pasture.

In upcoming blog posts we’ll explore more about increasing and maintaining conscious choice, and explore how activity and movement is at the center of wellness in many ways. We’ll look at how lifestyle and culture affect our health and well-being. We’ll look at how improving our lifestyle if about our entire way of living.