ENLIGHTEN UP! a blog
Self-awareness stories: lighting our way to clarity, contentment and resilience in a complicated world.
ENLIGHTEN UP! a blog
Self-awareness stories: lighting our way to clarity, contentment and resilience in a complicated world.
LOL! This is not a post about sex. It’s about Gratitude. But gratitude is sexy and an essential part of positive relationships – so say the experts.
Gratitude is defined as being thankful and appreciative for something or someone. Finding an attitude of gratitude helps you live with a greater sense of well-being in spite of challenges, difficulties, and disappointments.
We can think of gratitude in both internal and external ways. These can be:
Research shows that gratitude can activate the production of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, the "feel good" chemicals, that promote feelings of peace and contentment, reduce anxiety and enhance sleep patterns. It also shows that a gratitude practice provides those benefits in spite of challenges, difficulties, and disappointments. That’s good news!
How long do those benefits last? The answer is: it depends. Like exercising, healthy eating, and living a clutter-free lifestyle, developing a consistent gratitude practice can sustain and enhance the benefits. An attitude of gratitude helps us find a measure of contentment with who we are, what we have, and how we can live with more clarity and resilience.
An attitude of gratitude helps us remain centered and peaceful; not getting too upset when daily glitches and messy life situations show up (and they will) and not getting too excited when things go 100% the way we hoped (and we always hope they will). Finding the middle ground is not always easy but practicing gratitude is one way to find it consciously and more often. And practicing gratitude is a choice and a skill that we can learn. If we choose to work with gratitude in our everyday lives, we’ll keep those "feel good" chemicals flowing.
A quick search on the Internet offers many ways to practice gratitude. I found some sites with seven, 25, 29, 31 and 40 suggestions. These include waking up in the morning and naming five things that you are grateful for before getting out of bed, making daily entries in a gratitude journal, or choosing affirmations to repeat as you brush your teeth or make your breakfast smoothie.
To find your ‘G’ spot, you can do an online search or try the following suggestions that can be done anytime throughout the day. I practice all three.
Gratitude for the Breath
When we are dealing with illness, pain, or physical limitations, it can be hard to feel or experience an attitude of gratitude for our bodies. However, as long as we are alive we can consciously experience gratitude for the act of breathing. Consciously coordinating breath and movement is a deep practice. Taking a breath in as we raise an arm or a leg can feel empowering. Exhaling while we lower an arm or leg can bring a restful release. We can be consciously grateful for each breath and movement accomplished. If some or all of the body is unable to move, we can focus on moving the breath, feeling grateful for each inhalation and each exhalation.
If you think the idea of being grateful for breath and breathing is new, think again. It’s old, really old. At least 2,000 years old. We can find a discussion of the breath in The Upanishads, a collection of Vedic spiritual writings from India. The Taittiriya Upanishad recognizes the importance of being grateful for breath:
“Man and woman, beast and bird live by breath.
Breath is therefore called the true sign of life.
It is the vital force in everyone
That determines how long we are to live.
Those who look upon breath as the Lord’s gift
Shall live to complete the full span of life.”
—The Upanishads, translation by Eknath Easwaran
In The Breathing Book: Good Health and Vitality Through Essential Breath Work, Donna Farhi gives us a contemporary explanation for being grateful for breath:
“Breathing affects your respiratory, cardiovascular, neurological, gastrointestinal, muscular, and psychic systems and also has a general effect on your sleep, your memory, your energy level, and your concentration.”
Breathing happens whether we pay attention to it or not. When we point our awareness and attention toward the breath, we can use it to deepen an attitude of gratitude. Here is a powerful practice.
Gratitude Breath Practice
1. Bring yourself to a comfortable position, seated or lying down.
2. Place your full attention on your breath.
3. Begin to notice the four parts of your breathing process:
5. Silently say “Thank you” on the inhalation and again on the exhalation.
6. Spend three to five minutes watching the four parts of your natural breathing process and consciously practice gratitude.
Affirmations are positive statements that help us reinforce helpful, productive states of mind and well-being. When repeated often, they help to encourage a positive outlook. You can think of affirmations as a gratitude exercise for the mind. Affirmations are short and stated in the present tense: “I am” as opposed to “I will.”
Here is one that cultivates gratitude:
“Thank you for everything, I have no complaint whatsoever.”
This affirmation is often attributed to Sono, a female Zen master, who lived about 150 years ago. I use it because it helps me feel grateful and content.
This is one of my favorite daily practices. When I take a moment to tune in to my surroundings a few times during the day, no matter how busy I am, something that I can be grateful for almost always "pops" into my consciousness. Here are a few examples.
After days of cold weather and rain, the sun comes out, the sky brightens, my mood lifts, and I experience a sudden onset of gratitude for sunshine. Or during the oppressive heat and humidity of summer a cool breeze passes by to cool me down. In either case, I smile and whisper “Thank you.”
As a recovering perfectionist with a long daily "to do" list, my mind says, "Do it all!” When that happens, I feel anxiety creeping in. If I take a moment to tune into my body, I can hear it saying, "Edit! Edit! Edit!" If I follow through (I don’t always but I’m a work in progress, as are we all) I will take skillful action and choose three items for the day. Anxiety eases. I smile and whisper “Thank you.”
While watching the news, I see a story about someone struggling with a serious health condition. I reflect on my health, which is good in spite of aches, pains, moody blues, and minor chronic stuff. I smile and whisper “Thank you.”
To get your own bag of gratitude popcorn, remember to tune in to your surroundings a few times a day. If you do, something you can be grateful for will "pop" into your consciousness. Then smile and whisper “Thank you.”
Here is a quote that reminds me to practice being grateful:
“A contented heart is a calm sea in the midst of all storms.”
Find your ‘G’ spot and let an attitude of gratitude be your boat.
Menopause, the ‘M’ word has emerged from the shadows and is now part of our cultural consciousness. The Pause, as it is sometimes called, is seen by the medical profession, Big Pharma and many women as the end of fertility, the beginning of aging and a condition to be medicated. Given our modern health care and longer life spans, women in America can anticipate spending close to one-third of their lives in a post-reproductive state. That’s a long time to see life through a glass darkly!
Let’s Enlighten Up! and see menopause as a transformative experience, a Pause that refreshes.
Looking at menopause in a positive light for American women takes a bit of doing. In 2015, Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a professor in obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive health at Yale Medical School was quoted in a Reuter’s Health article discussing cultural differences in women’s experience of menopause:
“In societies where age is more revered and the older woman is the wiser and better woman, menopausal symptoms are significantly less bothersome. Where older is not better, many women equate menopause with old age, and symptoms can be much more devastating.”
In America, older is not considered better if you are a woman, at least not yet. Need an example? Look at some language used to describe menopause. Google: synonyms for menopause at https://www.powerthesaurus.org/menopausal/synonyms. You will find a long list filled with unflattering and unhelpful words:
UGH! GIVE ME A BREAK!
And don’t get me started on how menopause is depicted in ads and pictures — so many images of sad looking women with their hands clutching their heads. It is time for a positive change in how we view and manage this transition. Movies, television and books are beginning to present positive images of older women but right now that beginning adds only one drop of truth to an ocean of ignorance.
What can you do about it? You can change your perspective so start with yourself, right now, this minute. It doesn’t matter if your menopause transition is past, present or years in the future. Your menopause is like your fingerprint — unique and personal. The way you perceive and move through this transition can transform your inner and outer experience.
One way to change your view of menopause is to see how it fits into your life span. There are many ways to divide a life span. Online they range from four to 12. I like to keep things simple so let’s go for four:
In general, midlife seems perfectly timed to align with menopause. It can be seen as moving away from a more active time of life toward a more contemplative one. Many western writers and thinkers, such as Marian VanEyke McCain, Christiane Northrup, and Clarissa Pinkola Estes, support this view. They point to the drive that moves women to begin an inner journey, address unfinished business, and claim the wisdom and power inherent at this time of life. Seen from this perspective, menopause is a natural transition that can enrich the journey from midlife to the senior years.
However, as lovely and transformative as that sounds, there are stressful challenges women may face. While doing research for my master’s thesis on menopause, I discovered a long list of possible symptoms including the most common:
And two surprising uncommon ones:
How can you deal with menopausal stress? Start with the first layer of self-awareness, your physical body. My menopause date is many years in the past but trust me, stress still visits. I walk. I do yoga and I dance like no one is watching. I’ve noticed that if I skip more than a few days without exercise, I become passive, petulant and pissy – not a pretty sight.
Your exercise choices will be like your menopause experience — unique and personal. The Mayo Clinic says:
“Exercise in almost any form can act as a stress reliever. Being active can boost your feel-good endorphins and distract you from daily worries.”
One way to keep your menopause stress from going meno-Postal is to take a meno-Pause and find a way to exercise. With firm intention, a little research and a healthy dose of discipline, you will find a way to incorporate some form of exercise into your life.
Adapting exercise for menopause will depend on your specific needs. For example, moving slowly, taking time to sense and feel your body move through space tends to cool and calm. Moving faster with more intensity tends to warm and energize. What you do and how you do it will depend on what you need in the moment. It’s a good time to tune into your Witness, the fourth layer of self-awareness and recognize how stress and menopause may be impacting you. Here’s one woman’s story:
P., is a yoga teacher and my friend. When we were sharing menopause stories, she told me she had a lot going on in her life in addition to menopause; a new husband, a twelve year old daughter from a former marriage, a late life two and a half year old baby girl from the new marriage, a stressful job as a researcher for a domestic violence project, a new yoga business and a pending appearance as a witness in a sexual harassment suit. Usually efficient and punctual, she was experiencing growing periods of mental fuzziness. In addition, she had been losing track of time, not showing up for some appointments and being late for others. She was experiencing what for her was an uncomfortable level of inner turmoil. About this state of affairs she said, “I don’t really think I have more stress than usual. It’s just that I feel it more now.”
Managing individual symptoms is another matter. Hot flashes are one of the most common. In her book, The Wisdom of Menopause, Christiane Northrup, M.D., defines a hot flash this way:
“Also known as vasomotor flushing, the hot flash occurs when the blood vessels in the skin of the head and neck open more widely than usual, allowing more blood to shift into the area, creating heat and redness.”
Typically triggered by falling estrogen levels, hot flashes usually stop a year or two after the actual menopause date. However, in some cases women may experience hot flashes for years. M., another friend of mine was surprised and appalled to be experiencing hot flashes a decade after her last period. When I told her it was normal, although understandably uncomfortable, she said, “Why didn’t my doctor ever tell me that!” I’m guessing that her doctor didn’t know and never read Northrup’s book!
In general, if a woman has an adverse response to stressful events, the more hot flashes she may have or the more intensely she may experience them. Conversely, the more effectively a woman handles stress, the more likely she is to experience milder hot flashes or have less intense reactions to them.
If you have hot flashes, try techniques that cool and calm. Here is a breath practice that can be done anytime, anywhere. No mat, chair or yoga pants needed! It is one of my favorites.
Cooling Breath for Hot Flashes
This breath practice often stops a hot flash if caught as the flash begins. Practice the Cooling Breath consistently so it will be readily available when you feel a flash or a flush coming on. This technique has helped several of my yoga students and a few others, including my flashing friend, M., who does not have a yoga practice and is not interested in starting one.
How it works: the inhalation brings cool air into the body. The exhalation releases warm air out.
As you think about your menopause experience, past, present or future, here is something to keep in mind:
“There is no more creative force in the world than the menopausal woman with zest.” ― Margaret Mead, cultural anthropologist
BETH GIBBS started her yoga practice in 1968, four months after her son was born and she’s been practicing ever since. She currently teaches all levels therapeutic yoga classes for adults, and specialty classes for seniors in the Hartford, Connecticut area. Beth is a certified yoga therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists and is guest faculty at the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy. She writes for the blogs, Yoga for Healthy Aging, and Accessible Yoga. Her master’s degree from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA is in Yoga Therapy and Mind/Body Health.