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What One Little Word Breaks You Out of Your Comfort Zone?

The following is an article I originally published on Empowered Living.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Neale Donald Walsch

Why do we find ruts so comfortable?

Before cancer, “No” was my default response to anything new and different. After cancer, I realized saying “Yes” was healing and jumped in with both feet.

I’d wanted to check out yoga prior to cancer but, true to form, never made it happen. After my mastectomy and reconstructive surgeries I was ready to take back control over my body. We joined the local Y and I tried the weight room, Pilates classes and, finally, found myself in a yoga class.

It was love at first down dog.

Over the next three years, I regularly attended the same yoga class twice a week. The teacher’s rhythm, my classmates, even the ride back and forth to the Y became an established part of my week.

Eventually, I realized something was missing and I needed to break out and try other classes, but I’m a creature of habit and resisted. My schedule worked and I was afraid if I messed with it, I’d drop out and stop doing yoga all together. Also, truth be told, I was afraid to be the new kid in class again.

The tension between sticking with the familiar and longing for something new continued way too long. The more excuses I made, the more dissatisfied I became with yoga itself. I wasn’t going to class as much and, when I did, wasn’t leaving with the same good feeling.

Eventually I realized, although part of me wanted to stay safely ensconced in the same old same old, the part of me that wanted to venture out was tired of hearing “No.” I was comfortable in the rut I had created, but it was stifling.

Saying “Yes” to switching it up allowed me to experiment. I wrote new class times down in my planner and rearranged my work schedule. It took a bit of time, but I found a new teacher with a great energy level and found myself smiling and laughing in class again.

Which reminds me of the time I changed hair stylists. After working with her well over 10 years, my former stylist was getting sloppy and was always late. Plus, her salon was no longer conveniently located. Rather than find a new stylist, however, I kept making appointments.

I finally had enough when, after I had driven 30 minutes for our last appointment, she didn’t even bother to show up. I found a wonderful new stylist much closer to home, who asked why I had stuck it out with my former stylist for so long.

“I’m loyal,” I said.

To which he replied, “To a fault.”

He was right and I was wrong.

It was my fault I didn’t change stylists sooner, but it wasn’t because of loyalty.

It was because I was afraid to say “Yes” to breaking out of my comfort zone.

Are you ready to shake it up a little? Why not say “Yes” today to something you’d like to do but have been afraid to make happen.

All it takes is saying one little word and you never know where the life at the end of your comfort zone will take you.

Survival > Existence,

Image courtesy Lyn Tally

10 Little Things to Do With Mindful Awareness

The more I practice mindful awareness, the more I learn what it is and what it isn't. What it isn't is hours spent in the lotus position, eyes closed, blissfully deep in meditation.

What it is is beautifully summed up by my husband, "It's the little things."

I wear and don't wear glasses. What I mean is that I have them off as often as I have them on. When they're not perched on my nose, I usually have no idea where they are. That's because I mindlessly put them down and, when I want to perch them on my nose again, have no memory of where I put them.

Mindfulness is the opposite of "mind fullness." It's the ability to focus on exactly what is happening at the moment - even something so little as taking off my glasses. Although multi-tasking seems productive in theory, it has repercussions. Like losing your glasses again and again and again. Lose them often enough and it's a short leap from losing your glasses to losing your mind.

I have an idea. Why don't you join me this week in trying to be more mindfully aware of the little things. I'd love it if you let me know either here in the comments or over at my Facebook page how you are doing. To get us started, here are some "little" things to be more mindfully aware:

1. Glasses - We all know it's not about the glasses. It's about juggling 20 things at a time. By slowing down and concentrating on one activity  we instill calmness and focus. When I let myself single task, I actually get more done with less downtime, because I don't do silly things like constantly losing my glasses.

2.  Yoga and Exercise - I hit the yoga mat after running out of the house, driving through traffic and running up to class. Sometimes (okay, most times) it's not easy to leave the fury of the day behind and settle into yoga. But when I do, even for a few minutes, I am richly rewarded. That's why I keep going back.

3.  Cooking - At the end of a busy day, cooking can be a chore, but when you "throw it on the table," you're missing an opportunity for mindfulness. Slow down and really look at your ingredients. Focus on the smell, taste and feel of the food in your hands. Bringing together even a simple dish is a work of creation. Mindfully enjoy it and cooking becomes a relaxing focal point to the day.

4.  Eating - Once you've mindfully created dinner, why not mindfully eat it? The secret to filling your life with simple pleasures (and food has to be right up there) is to actually pay attention to them. Eat slowly and really taste your food. Your body deserves to be fed and your consciousness deserves to savor it. 

5.  Conversation - Whether it's dinnertime with the family or throughout the day, good conversation requires mindfulness. Do you know that flow that comes when you're talking with a friend and time flies by? That's mindfulness and it's amazing. Resolve to get more of it by mindfully focusing on whoever you're talking to at the moment.

6.  Simple Tasks - When I was a young lawyer, I lived in an apartment by myself for a few years. At the end of my very long, crazy days, I'd find myself washing the dishes and really enjoying it. It was quiet, the soap and warm water relaxed me and I was able to start and finish a project. (If you've ever had a job where nothing ever seems to resolve or be finished, you know what I mean.)  I didn't know what mindfulness was at the time, but that's what I was experiencing and it was very satisfying. 

7.  Relaxation - It's probably no secret by now that I'm a multi-tasking workaholic. That's why relaxing doesn't come easily to me, but I know I need to refresh and rejuvenate more often. Being mindfully connected to the moment of relaxation (and not running unending to-do lists through my head) is my only hope. I'm working on it.

8.  Sex - See #7 and "Why Mindfulness is Vital to Sexual Health."

9.  Tea meditation - It's funny how a little thing like tea can teach so much about mindfulness.  

10. Silence -  How can we be mindfully aware of any one thing with so many distractions constantly swirling around us? With all of our 24/7 gadgetry, we've forgotten that moments of silence are necessities. Resolve to turn off the unnecessary noise in your day and seek out silence (or as close to silence as you can get.) Making moments of silence a priority makes mindfulness a possibility.

Remember, I want to hear from you! Let me know here and on Facebook what you're doing to bring little moments of mindfulness into your day!

Survival > Existence,

Related Posts:

Meditation Monday: My Number One Tip to Solving Problems

Mindful Monday: Aware Kindness

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

Summer's Over! Time to Face the Next "New Normal"

The time is finally here! Our daughter is off to college and we're facing yet another "new normal."  Because this week has been devoted exclusively to spending time with her, I didn't make time to write a new post. Instead, I thought I'd rerun the piece I wrote last year entitled "What the Last Weekend of Summer Teaches Us About Moving Beyond Cancer." 

Reading it again, I was struck by the pertinence of its message to what we're facing this September. Once again I'm hoping to "celebrate (my) tenacious ability to face (my) fears and get on with the next phase of (my) life." Although I'm not quite ready to let her go, I'm going to trust again that I can handle it as I step blindly into the unknown.

I hope you have a wonderful last weekend of summer and we'll talk again in September about our newest adventures.

It's the Friday before the unofficial last weekend of summer, which of course means it's Labor Day Weekend, the last day of summer is September 20th, but no one cares about that. This weekend draws a line in the sand.  For the next three days, we continue to exist within the vast openness of summer days filled with sunshine and possibility. As of Tuesday morning, the beach chairs and umbrellas are stored away. It's not about technicalities, it's about knowing when to get on with the next phase of your life.

And get on we will because we've done this before.  If you've graduated from the third grade, you're an old hand at it.  We might complain about busier schedules, earlier wake up calls, and first day of school jitters, but we know we can handle it. Been there, done that. 

When it comes to change or transitions we haven't experienced before, we tend to shy away (actually, we often run screaming in the other direction.)  Our fear of the unknown is well known and deep-seated.  It is the fear that gripped us when we were told, "You have cancer."  Without warning from the calendar, or even our own bodies, we are suddenly plucked from our world and thrown into cancer's.  All of the medical terminology, procedures and realities of our new existence are stunningly unrecognizable. There's no "been there, done that" to rely upon.  We have to learn anew, sometimes minute by minute, what we are capable of handling.  

At some point, if we are very lucky, it starts to get a bit easier.  Not necessarily because we are "cured," but because we are healing.  Like it or not, we've gotten on with the next phase of our lives. We are survivors. We've taken advantage of support groups, exercise classes, counseling, yoga, Pilates, meditation, guided imagery or whatever presented itself when we needed it.  Nothing makes the stark reality of having cancer better.  Cancer will always be a despicable blight. But we have managed to adapt to its reality so we can survive, despite our fear, and that's made all the difference.

Next week, with my children safely in school, I will travel once again to the Breast Center for my yearly mammogram. From the first mammogram of my life to the life-changing mammogram of September 2008, I never gave them much thought. They were inconvenient, uncomfortable obligations and I attended to them dutifully, but without concern. Now, I walk in hand-in-hand with my fear of the unknown and the inevitable question, "What if?"

I live in New Jersey and have been "down the shore," as we say here, many times.  I love seeing the Atlantic Ocean, but I don't want to go in it. There's something about blindly putting my feet down on whatever might be lurking under the water that unnerves me. I'm never going to stop being afraid of the unknown. I'm just going to have to keep telling myself that I've handled it before, and I'm still here. For now, that's all I can do.

Have a wonderful weekend!  Whatever we're up to, let's make sure to celebrate our tenacious ability to face our fears and get on with the next phase of our lives.  Join the discussion and let me know how you've managed your fear of the unknown.

Survival > Existence,

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

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,

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

Related Posts:

Meditation Monday: The Necessity of Silence in Our Lives

Meditation Monday: Do You Have Time for Quotes About Time?

Rodney Yee Neck and Shoulder Stretch

Whenever I spend time on my computer, I invariably realize that my shoulders are up around my ears. 

If you're like me and work at a desk, you probably carry tension in your shoulders and neck too. If so, you have to try Rodney Yee's Four-Minute Neck and Shoulders Stretch at Your Desk.

Take a four minute break and watch the video above. I"m sure you'll enjoy the stretch and, when you get back to work, I bet you'll be more productive, too. Enjoy!

Are You Afraid to Move Your Body?

Number one, like yourself. Number two, you have to eat healthy. And number three, you've got to squeeze your buns. That's my formula. Richard Simmons

After cancer treatments and surgeries, our bodies are definitely changed. Where there once was health and vigor, there is now scarring, tightness, soreness and weakness. While it certainly takes time to heal physically, it often takes longer to heal our battered body image.

Even after our doctor has cleared us for physical activity, many of us are scared to get moving. We've become protective and have a real fear of doing our bodies further harm. Pain is a great educator and we involuntarily shrink so as not to experience more of it.

When my doctor cleared me for physical activity, he encouraged me to exercise. I joined a rehabilitative exercise class, which went at a pace specifically designed for women recouperating from breast cancer surgery. Emboldened by that class, I joined a gym and attended a Pilates class. The instructor told us to lie on our backs and raise our feet up off the floor. My feet wouldn't budge a fraction of an inch. After a TRAM flap reconstruction, my abdominal muscles would have none of it.  I was so overwhelmed by yet another loss of cancer, I wanted to run from the room crying. I didn't run, but I never went back to that class.  

Saturday, at the Survivorship Symposium I attended at Overlook Hospital, I spoke to a survivor who is out of treatment for a year. She experienced exactly the same "run out of the room crying" feeling I did when she attempted to go back to playing tennis. I commiserated with her, but reassured her that I subsequently found yoga and now can very easily lift my feet off the floor. It just took sticking with it and finding an exercise that worked for me.

There's just one thing I won't do anymore after my surgery - go back on a roller coaster. The thought of throwing my body around like that hurts just to think about. The truth is that I was timing out before my surgery, but the surgery put the kibosh on rollercoaster riding for good. That's okay though. Screaming is the only exercise I got riding a roller coaster anyway.

If your doctor has cleared you for exercise, are you up and moving? Studies now show that exercise is not only important for healing, but also for lowering your risk for future cancers. Make sure to find activities that you like and are comfortable doing and get moving!

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

Cancer Warriors Wednesday - 10 Things to Do on Leap Day

All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without benefit of experience. Henry Miller

Today is that rarest of days, February 29th or Leap Day. Every four years, we add an additional day to February to keep the calendar in alignment with the Earth's revolutions around the sun. Because it takes the Earth 365 days and approximately six hours to travel once around the Sun, our calendar would be off by approximately 24 days every 100 years if not for Leap Day. 

As active cancer warriors, we live full lives with and beyond cancer. There is always a lot going on and our days are busy and full. Today is a good day to take stock and consider new goals and priorities. If you write them down and save the list, you can revisit it in 2016 when the next Leap Day rolls around. 

Today can also be considered a bonus day. It's a gift of 24 hours that you can use however you wish. Some suggestions:

1.  Read that book you've wanted to read, but haven't made the time to read.

2.  Plan an interesting dinner, something you wouldn't ordinarily eat at dinnertime. Breakfast for dinner? Why not?

3.  Clean out clutter in drawers and closets and donate what you don't need anymore.

4.  Email or phone someone who you haven't spoken to in a while but have been missing.

5.  Sit down quietly and do a little zentangle art, just because it's fun and calming.

6.  Start a mindful meditation practice. Taking just ten minutes a day to sit and quiet your mind is a wonderful habit to develop.

7.  Take a walk. Restart your home yoga practice. Sign up at a gym. Get moving.

8.  Make an appointment to donate blood, sign up to volunteer or look into other ways to give back.

9.  Make sure you laugh. Watch a funny movie, talk with a friend or sister who makes you laugh. 

10. Get enough rest. Take a nap, get to bed early, luxuriate in your bed.

Take the opportunity today to leap forward in whatever way pleases you. You can take a major leap, or a tiny one, but it will always be significant if it leads you to even a moment of personal growth and satisfaction. I'd love to know what you are doing today to commerate Leap Day. Whatever it is I wish you joy and a Happy Leap Day!

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

What Do Mom Jeans Have to Do With Self-Confidence?

With realization of one's own potential and self-confidence in one's ability, one can build a better world. Dalai Lama

Sometime in the 1980's or early 1990's I decided to stop wearing jeans because I looked horrible in them. I held my thighs responsible for what I saw in the mirror. Many years later, I rediscovered jeans and now wear them all the time. What changed? (Hint: There is no way I actually got thinner over the decades.)

What completely escaped me all those decades ago was that fashion itself doomed me to failure. The jean style back then was high-waisted (well above the belly-button) with tapered legs. I put them on and instantly looked like a pear on stilts. What's more, they flattened out my derriere, making it look wider than it actually was. Today that same jean style is affectionately known as the Mom Jean. If you are wearing them right now, I apologize if I offend, but believe me when I say that you can do so much better.

Is it any wonder I felt ugly when I wore those jeans? Of course not. What is a wonder is how easily I took the blame for what I saw in the mirror. Rather than recognize that the jean itself was wrong for my body, I labeled my body as wrong. What I saw in the mirror mirrored my self-confidence.

I completely believe that true beauty lies within. But, if we look in the mirror and see something horrifying, it's hard to get past it sometimes. That's why I had such a hard time with the scars from my mastectomy and reconstructive surgery that first summer. When I looked in the mirror, my body image and cancer collided and the butchery my body underwent to treat a disease became a part of my self image. Just like those jeans, the ugliness of my surgeries projected ugliness onto me.

As time went on, I realized I did not have to label myself as damaged and ugly. I participated in the American Cancer Society's "Look Good...Feel Better" program and had a wonderful experience. I joined a rehabilitative exercise class, signed up at the local YMCA and began doing yoga. Taking back control over my body gave me self-confidence which exceeded the level I had pre-cancer.

Self-confidence has many sources, but I think one of the most important is the support we give ourselves. Most of us do feel better when we look good. Take a class, expand your horizons, make your nest comfortable and nurturing. When you give yourself the support you need to feel better, you give yourself the gift of self-confidence. From there, who knows what you can do to build a better world?

Did your level of self-confidence take a hit because of cancer? What are you doing to build it back up?

123RF Stock Photo

In a Bad Mood? Throw a Fit!

Start every day off with a smile and get it over with. W. C. Fields

I knew as I was writing yesterday's blog post about laughter, that I was only telling half the truth. I wasn't lying when I said that I often turn to laughter with friends or a funny movie to pull me out of a bad mood. But, what about those times when being smack dab in the middle of a nasty mood is exactly where I want to be?

It all goes back to something I learned in my yoga class, "Be where you are." As cancer survivors, we've been worried, afraid, lonely, stressed, and just plain burnt out.

Breast Cancer Yoga

on Tue, 01/31/2012 - 22:41