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Are You Spending Too Much Time with Technology?

I have to start out by saying that I love technology. I'm old enough to remember the huge black and white televisions and rotary telephones of my youth. Today's gadgets - smart phones, tablets, MP3 players, computers and flat screen televisions - are more useful, productive and a lot more fun.

They are also a lot more addictive. Recently a yoga teacher shot a dirty look at a student who couldn't stop checking her email in the middle of class. The kicker to the story is that the student complained to her employer (Facebook) and the teacher was fired for being too strict. Really? So, not only is the student so addicted to her phone that she can't enjoy an hour of uninterrupted yoga time, but her addiction is accepted and actually encouraged. 

I get the addiction. I succumb to it myself, because it's human. That's why we have to learn to use the technology mindfully and not buy into the social construct that it's okay to be mindless, rude and disconnected from the real world as long as you use the excuse that you're busy.

I take a "Stress Management Yoga" class twice a week and it's lovely. The teacher begins class by turning off the big overhead lights. With only the light of her small lamp at the front of the room, I immediately go into a relaxed state. 

One day, a young woman came into the class. I doubt she was over the age of 21. She laid out her mat close to mine, piling all of her stuff - shoes, water bottle, cell phone - next to her mat. As soon as class started, so did the texting. Do you know what the glare of a cell phone's light looks like in a dark room? It's a beacon of light that bores a hole into your head.

I didn't want to complain, because I was trying to stay relaxed and blissfully unaware of outside annoyances, but I was losing the fight. I cheered when the teacher finally came over to her and told her, "We don't do that in here."  She put the phone down, but a few minutes later picked it up and checked it again. I don't know what she was checking, but I doubt it was of national importance. She left when class was over and I've never seen her again. 

Which reminds me of an ancient memory, long before cell phones even existed. When I was a brand new lawyer, I worked for a small firm with two associates. I was one and the other associate was a young woman who was a chain smoker. In fact, I remember she had a habit of lighting up her next cigarette before she actually finished the one in her hand. I honestly don't know how she got anything else done.

One day, we had to go to the law library to do research. Panic ensued when she realized smoking wasn't allowed in the library. She finally accepted the fact that there was no choice, took a deep breath, rushed into the library, worked in a panic for a few minutes until she couldn't stand it anymore, and rushed back out for a smoke. And she did this all day long. 

Watching her struggle with her addiction was illuminating. I realized how free I was to come and go as I pleased, while she ran back and forth as if the library was toxic and she could only breathe in its air a few minutes at a time. She obviously loved her cigarettes, just as we love our technology, but that love came at a price.

The next time I know I spending too much time checking my phone or surfing the web, I'm going to remember my long ago colleague. I don't want to ever be so addicted to anything that I literally can't breathe if I can't have it (other than oxygen, of course.) If I've learned anything from cancer, I've learned to be more aware and appreciative of all aspects of my life. It's impossible to be mindfully connected to your life, friends, family and bodily needs if your connection to technology supersedes anything else. 

Do you find yourself mindlessly addicted to technology sometimes? What do you do to try to break out of addictive technology usage?

Survival > Existence,

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Meditation Monday: The Necessity of Silence in Our Lives

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The Survivor's Nest - Five Tips for Yoga At Home

Yoga doesn't take time, it gives time. - Ganga White

About two years ago, I took my first yoga class. I had no idea what to expect, but figured a class called "Stress Management Yoga" would move slowly enough for me to keep up. I've been going to this class ever since and love it.

With the basics under my belt, I was ready to create a home yoga practice. Yoga at home is different from yoga in class. For me, 20 minutes on the mat at home can be more intense than an hour class. I tend to move more fluidly into poses, because I am more focused and not not waiting for direction.

Meditation Monday - 5 Tips to Reduce Holiday Stress

The holidays are about to begin, which makes me think about one of my favorite holiday movies for kids. In Sesame Street's Elmo Saves Christmas (Amazon affiliates link) Elmo helps Santa get unstuck from the chimney and is granted three wishes. Santa obviously isn't thrilled when Elmo wishes every day is Christmas. To show Elmo what life would be like if everyone had to celebrate Christmas every day, Santa takes him on a journey 193 days into the future.  

Of course, the message of the movie is how the joy of the holiday is lost when "celebrating" becomes a daily burden. I know a lot about holiday stress, and it didn't take me 193 days to feel its burden.

After we moved into our house and had children, I learned first-hand why Santa wasn't happy about every day being Christmas. I planned big family holiday celebrations, with extensive menus and did 99% of the shopping, preparation, and cooking myself. Before family came, the house had to be perfectly cleaned and decorated, also by me. On top of all the food preparation, I shopped for and wrapped all the presents. I saw myself as a mini-Martha Stewart and was just as driven with perfection. It was exhausting.

As the years went on, I came to enjoy my Martha Stewart role less and less. And then, three years ago, I got cancer. The first holiday season, I was distracted by tests and difficult questions, and the next year, I was healing from two surgeries. Last year, I was finished with treatment, but spent what little energy I had left on a huge kitchen renovation which was completed just days before Christmas.

This year, I finally feel ready to stick a toe back into holiday celebrating. I'm going to take it slow, however, and be very conscious of not slipping back into old ways. To keep holiday stress at bay, I'm going to remember the following five tips:

1. Have realistic expectations: My Martha Stewart holiday plans were wildly unrealistic. As a new parent, hosting new grandparents, I felt an overwhelming responsibility to create Norman Rockwell holidays for my family. Since we don't live in oil paintings, this was never going to actually happen. I've learned that the best way to control stress is to control expectations. If each day has a realistic to-do list, there will be success at the end of the day, rather than failure.

2. Slow down: I love watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade every year, but I always hear a starter pistol go off in my head as soon as I see Santa's sleigh. It's the official beginning of the race to Christmas Day and the pressure is immediately on. It doesn't have to be this way. If you're feeling stressed, close your eyes and watch your breath. When multi-tasking gets out of hand, stop and refocus on mindfulness. For me, I am going to stop and remember what the last three years were like, and I'm going to be grateful for where I am now and how far I have come.

3. Enjoy some me time: Don't become so involved with holiday preparations that you forget to take care of yourself. Falling into bed exhausted each night is not rest. Rejuvenate by reading a book, enjoying a cup of tea, getting a spa treatment or simply watching a funny television show in the middle of the day. Running yourself ragged completely diminishes the joy of the holidays and turns celebration into hard labor.

4. Make time for spiritual connection:  For the past several years, we travel to my husband's church in Brooklyn during Christmas season. We don't attend mass, but prefer to be there when the church is mostly empty and peaceful and quiet. I've had some amazing moments of silent reflection in that church and it has come to be one of my most treasured Christmas traditions. 

5. Have fun: Isn't family fun and togetherness what the holidays are all about? Have a family pajama night in front of the fireplace. Focus on fun and relaxation, rather than on creating the perfect table or moment, and you will see your holiday stress melt away.

With Thanksgiving just three days away, it's time to take a moment to decide how we want our holidays to go. Let's make a pact to really enjoy this holiday season by slowing down, focusing on fun and scheduling some me time. If you have other suggestions to reduce holiday stress, please take a moment to let me know what they are.  

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The Survivor's Nest - Family Togetherness

I bet you didn't know that Saturday night is National Family Pajama Night. I didn't know it either until I stumbled upon it on the Internet. Of course, this "holiday" is entirely made up by The Company Store, a company that sells pajamas, but that's not the point. Reading the website brought back lovely memories of family pajama nights we had when our children were much younger. I was grateful to be reminded and to realize that you don't have to be a child or have children to appreciate family togetherness.

When we celebrated our own family pajama nights, we "camped out" in the living room. Our campsite was prepared by moving the coffee table out of the way and setting up bedding and pillows on the area rug next to the sofa. Of course, our focal point was the fireplace, which was ready to go. Once it got dark and everyone was in pajamas, the fire was lit and the lights went out. The four of us basked in the coziness and warmth of its light and the family togetherness of the moment.

If you're looking for a more active family pajama night, you can play board games or plan other activities. The Company Store Facebook page has a fun "Memory Maker" section offering an activity "Idea A Day" since October 3rd. The activities are perfect for younger children and are really adorable. In fact, they are so cute, I may try one or two of them with my teenagers, after all.

I guess that's the secret to a fun family togetherness activity. Don't be afraid to shake things up a bit. Turn your living room into a camping site. Don't be afraid to move the furniture around and actually use that fireplace. The more you actively use your house to promote cheer and healing, the more homey and comforting your home becomes. By just walking in the door, you will get that nesting feeling.

You don't have to have young children to enjoy a family pajama night. I'm going to plan one with my teenagers. If it's just you and a partner, enjoy camping out in front of the fireplace or turn off all electronics and enjoy the silence together. It doesn't matter what you do, it only matters that you savor each other's company.

What I remember most about those nights with my husband and children was the peacefulness of the entire house. It nurtured my soul, and was especially appreciated after a long and active kid-filled day. By taking the time to wind down as a family and really focus on togetherness, active mindfulness and beautiful family memories are your rewards.

I hope you and your family enjoy some family togetherness this weekend. If you're still wondering what to do on National Family Pajama Night, I'll leave you with this YouTube video because it's just so darn cute and these kids have some really great ideas:

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Meditation Monday - The Necessity of Silence in Our Lives

Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation.  Jean Arp 

Are we ready to say goodbye to silence? You would think not, but think again. Just as we forego focus and mindfulness for the sake of multi-tasking, so have we traded silence for the constant stimulation of noise. As cancer survivors ready to get back to the "essence of life," shouldn't we be willing to keep silence alive?  

Think about all the information that bombards us every day from every possible direction. One of my pet peeves is the number of screens we are now subjected to in our everyday life. It seems that, unless you are in a fine dining, white tablecloth establishment, most restaurants now surround you with television screens. Retail stores, which used to play background music, now run music videos or ads on televisions bolted to the walls. My local Wal-Mart hangs televisions from the ceiling. The first of many pelts you from overhead as you walk in the door. The ubiquity of television - is this what George Orwell was warning us about in Nineteen Eighty-Four? 

And what about the laptops, tablets, iPods, smartphones and the like, that we carry around with us? The constant pinging and ringing should drive us all crazy. Instead, we can't get enough and go looking for more information in response to phantom cell phone vibrations. Maybe this is a form of insanity.

Every once in a while, I find myself in my kitchen trying to listen as various family members talk to me - at the same time. As I begin to feel the stress of needing to listen, but being overwhelmed by too much information coming in too fast, I become aware of another voice. With the push of one button, the background drone of the television goes dead and I breathe in, relieved. I don't have total silence, but I have silenced unnecessary ambient noise.

Mindfulness and meditation cannot exist without silence. We can prevent the extinction of silence by being more aware of the noise pollution all around us. If we control what we can, with that little flick of a finger, we can give our mind a much needed break. Once we let ourselves experience silence, we will realize how necessary it is to a healthy life beyond cancer.

We all live hectic, noisy lives. Do what you can today to find moments of silence. Turn off your cell phone, television or laptop. Give yourself a brief moment of inner silence and see where it takes you. As Deepak Chopra said, "Silence is the great teacher, and to learn its lessons you must pay attention to it. There is no substitute for the creative inspiration, knowledge, and stability that come from knowing how to contact your core of inner silence." I'd love to know how you bring silence into your busy life and what it gives you in return.

Survival > Existence,

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos