Where In The World Is Your Heart?

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

You Call This Normal?

You Call That Normal?
Invest In Your Immunity With This Simple Tip

Last week an old friend of mine and I spoke on the phone. I asked her how she was doing and her response was this: "Well, I am still totally stressed out and get those headaches and am running around a mile a minute, so I feel completely drained. You know, the normal stuff."

Mary HIH MemberI paused and thought to myself that there is nothing normal about getting headaches and feeling drained to the max! However, we have become so accustomed to running our lives at a high impact level that we have fooled ourselves into believing this is "normal". Meanwhile, it appears her body is giving her clear signals that it needs attention in order to function more efficiently.

Basically, here's what is happening. Her body is getting the signal from her heart that there is danger.

Where does this come from?

The emotion she feels. The emotion of perhaps frustration, fear, anxiety, panic... or whatever is going on with her.

So, her heart says to her body, "Danger, danger!" And the immune system jumps into action saying, "We will take care of that. We are not safe. We must fight, fight!" This sure does sound exhausting to me already.

See, the heart does not distinguish the source of the emotion of panic or fear. So, feeling panic and fear could be coming from being chased by a black bear OR your blackberry! The signal is the same to the body to go take action. Quite useful if being chased by a black bear. Not so useful when "being chased" by your blackberry on a daily basis. Imagine what that is continuously doing to your immune system. Not so great. Now we are understanding more about those headaches and seriously drained feeling.

The good news is this: Our heart gives us a way to manage stress on the spot.
And remember, stress is not, for the most part, a circumstance, but our internal response to a situation, so we have a choice.

So, next time you can catch yourself going into panic or anxiety mode, try this:
  • Focus on the area in and around your heart.
  • Breathe an even inhale and exhale through that heart space... as if the heart was breathing. Sometimes it is easiest to count to 6 or 8 on each inhale and exhale to create an even pattern.
  • Stay in that space for 2-3 minutes.
  • Check in with how you feel.
  • Chances are that you have neutralized that feeling, even if only momentarily.
Congratulations. You have taken the first step to managing stress in your life from a scientifically proven perspective. Now imagine for a moment being so aware of this on a daily basis so that you live your life this way. Ahh, now that sounds appealing. And believe me, from personal experience, your immune system will thank you.

With love,

Stay tuned to find out more about my proven strategies to understanding stress from a physiological perspective and learn to truly improve your body's state of health and your relationships. And no surprise to anyone who knows me... yes this directly involves the heart. But when doesn't it?

Friday, April 24, 2009

It Takes A Village!

The Color Red by Barbara Kingsolver
A person's Stature Can Rise By Giving More While Having Less

Tribeswomen in Red"Red is my color," I used to say. Just because I liked it best, I owned it. How many other things have I claimed as mine so easily? Whistling and sunshine, life and liberty. Things that can be lost. For most of us, life presents itself as a steady progress toward owning more, but having less. Vision, acuity, even walking-one bad fall taught me that was only a gift on loan.Then my broken leg healed and walking was mine again.

Photo by Wendy Peskin/Heifer International

But getting older means the breaks will come harder. I know this. I'm a professional observer, reporting on that inevitable human progress: the endless hungers for more, the having less. I see how age and loss can bring a temptation to hold harder to the privileges that remain. The customs of hoarding happiness infect every culture, as the powerful find ways to bar the weak or the young. I want to believe the cycle can be broken. I want to get old and give things away.

"Red is my color," I used to say and never will again, because of a beautiful, spirited girl named Menuka Poudel. We met in a village in lowland Nepal where red was everywhere: in flowering hedges, women's saris, and the teeka powder that dusts their hair and dots their foreheads as the symbol of marriage. I was there on a ceremonial day, so poinsettias in jars lined the dusty road, blazing against the mud-brick houses. I wore a red bandanna against the fierce lowland sun. I'd come as a journalist investigating women's development projects. This trip marked my 25th anniversary as a professional writer, and I felt shadowed by the girl I used to be, the one who took up her pen believing people would behave humanely if only they knew the whole story.

Since then I've crossed continents for those stories, breaking bones along the way, wearing out youthful hopes and most of my trust in happy outcomes. My current assignment felt likely to restore my optimism or put nails in its coffin. I'd been told that in this nation racked by a decade of armed insurrection, one international development agency had kept working where others could not. Its programs had improved the lives of more than 20,000 families. Even in the best of times, human kindness is fragile. How could it weather ten years of war?

If Menuka had the answer, I was listening. As we waited for the day's ceremony to begin, she chatted eagerly, establishing that we had the same favorite color. We both have young daughters. She married at 16 and moved in with her husband's family. "I imagined my husband and I would be the two wheels of a cart," she said, but five years later, when she was pregnant with their third child, her husband died. "My mother-in-law made me wash the teeka from my hair, and told me that as a widow I could never wear red again. No bright colors."

Widows here don't remarry. A husband's death is the next thing to it for his wife. Her community sees her as bad luck; drab clothing broadcasts her shame. For widows like Menuka, it also broadcasts vulnerability and the risk of sexual assault. Nevertheless, at 21 she adjusted to a lifetime without color. "My life was ended."

I know no other way to be alive than to keep listening, even to stories as sad as this. But should I stop hoping that somewhere the story will be different? The people of Menuka's village are seasonal agricultural workers, joined by the common ground of poverty. They have no doors that lock, hardly a possession beyond the handfuls of rice stirred into each day's meal. And still they could find a way to divide themselves into haves and have-nots. Married women ostracized widows. High-caste families still spurned those of lower caste. Before meeting Menuka, I'd talked with an elderly widow named Dhana Bishow-Karma, an "untouchable." She never let her shadow fall on anyone. In shops, she paid by tossing rupees without touching the owners' hands.

I'd touched the old woman's arm as I listened, wishing to prove this system that binds her is nonexistent where I come from. But I know better. I started school in a racially segregated first grade. In my country our poorest youth disproportionately inhabit our prisons and our wars. Schoolchildren scramble for classroom supplies while luxury accumulates around corporate heads. If we had no other currency for privilege, I'm sure that we, too, would make rules about shadows, and hoard color.

During the long drive to this village, I'd discussed my doubts with a Nepali staff member from Heifer International, the development organization that had worked here through roadblocks and revolution. Its mission is to train communities to become self-reliant through raising livestock or other means. Yes, she agreed, bridging that gap between rich and poor is complex. Material support alone-simply having more-is not the answer. "It won't really change the situation unless people have changed themselves," she said. "I value Heifer for addressing mental poverty. Mostly that comes from the women coming together in meetings, working on goals."

But how does "mental poverty" end when new entitlements seem to create new needs? Two nights earlier, in Kathmandu, I watched an American tourist complain scornfully about our hotel. Privilege begets privilege. That very morning I had tied a red scarf on my head without a thought. Now my scalp burned as I listened to Menuka explaining how she'd lost that color forever.

When Menuka's husband died, her bereft mother-in-law began attending meetings of the Milan Mahila Samuha, or Women's Togetherness Group. With guidance from the Heifer development staff, they devised a livelihood-improvement plan. They would raise meat goats. The first women to receive the animals pledged to pass some of their goats' offspring to other members, renewing the cycle until every villager had a source of income.

This was the story that had intrigued me: how did Heifer outlast the storms of war? The trick was to create material assistance from inside a village itself, rather than from far away. I wanted to believe it could work, but had to ask: Would some cheat? Don't lower-caste families get left out? I hated my skepticism, but that was the question I'd asked Bishow-Karma. "I am the lowest of untouchables," she said, "so of course I was afraid to go to a meeting, at first. Where would I sit? But the women who helped organize us were very open-minded about untouchable people. They spoke right to me! And little by little, high-caste women would share their feelings and even take food together with me. This was beyond my imagination. We had a long talk about spiritual values that stayed on my mind afterward. I thought, 'Maybe that's why the others are nice to me.' "

She'd been surprised to learn someone in the group would give her animals she could raise, earning the first income in her life. More surprising was the idea that she would eventually pass on that favor to another. "I had given away some vegetables once, but never a big thing. This was a new idea for me. It gave me new energy for living."

Menuka's mother-in-law also found herself energized by the workshops, as first they tackled sanitation and nutrition, then gender and caste. She decided Menuka should come to meetings, too. "The discussions made us start thinking about how women treat other women," Menuka said. "The fact that widows carry shame. It's women who make their daughters follow these rules." Her mother-in-law agreed. Talking about unspeakable things had caused her to think about what was hers, to keep or to let go. "Girls wear bright colors and bangles before they get married," she reasoned. "So being happy is not just a privilege of marriage. My son is dead. But my daughter-in-law is not."

Menuka was every inch alive as we sat waiting for the Women's Togetherness ceremony to begin. Fourteen women who'd earned income from their goats would now pass on the offspring to newer members. The donors wore red saris; the new initiates wore lavender. The whole village had turned out. I felt hope rise, and soon was crying like a child, because Dhana Bishow-Karma, whose old untouchable hand I'd wanted to hold, was now standing, throwing her shadow over everyone, holding her gift: a lop-eared goat wearing a necklace of marigolds. She walked toward her chosen recipient, another poor widow belonging to the highest caste in the village. Last year Bishow-Karma couldn't have entered the woman's home. Today she gave her good fortune. In the embrace of two old women holding each other, I saw the architecture of human grace. How astonishingly simple: mental poverty ends this way. A person's status can change, not by receiving but by giving.

If life is a march toward owning more and having less, it can also walk backward in its tracks, creating riots of inexplicable compassion, spinning straw into gold. It can change the rules, and dance. Menuka now stood up with her mother-in-law. The other mothers came forward with a plate piled with red teeka powder, the adornment forbidden to widows. By the handful they scooped up the color red giving it back to this daughter, rubbing it onto the crown of her head, covering her hair and face in a cloud of vermilion. She fell backward as the older women passed her from hand to hand, wrapping her in a red shawl. They had made a decision: Menuka should walk forward into her life, wearing color. Tears streaked scarlet tracks down her powdered cheeks. Schoolgirls and mothers cried for her joy, which was also theirs.

Now Menuka thinks her mother-in-law should wear red, too. Young people will change, she says, when the older ones do. As the crowd walked home, I took off my scarf and gave it to a girl who'd been eyeing it. Red isn't mine-for what on earth can be owned that hasn't been given away? The poinsettias wilted, and the village looked ordinary again. But untouchables had been touched. A widow danced barefoot in a red shawl. Today, in this place on earth, there was enough.

With love,

Barbara Kingsolver's 12 books of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction have won numerous awards, including the National Humanities Medal.
This article is courtesy of AARP Online Magazine April 24, 2009.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Change A Life In A Heartbeat

(Photo Credit: Fyera! and The Institute of HeartMath)

I sat in on a class this week that discussed the amount of time it takes to beat stress in our lives. Turns out, as you probably already know, a single heartbeat. Literally though.

It takes just a single heartbeat to begin to bring us more into what is termed as a coherent heart rhythm. From this place of coherence we can make better decisions in our life that feel aligned to us because they come from the heart. And the signals of our own hearts recognize truth.

If, for any reason, you feel at a distance from your heart right now, try this:

Point to yourself. Go on, point to yourself as if you are referring to you
to someone else.

Where did you point? Chances are it was not to your earlobe, forehead or feet. It was probably to your heart. So, your body intuitively points to the heart when referring to itself. Interesting, eh? So, perhaps you are not as far away from your heart as you "thought".

This week I had a doozie of an experience in the drugstore that proved to me, once again, the power of the heart and its instinctive healing powers.

I was standing in line at the checkout behind a woman probably in her early 50's who pulled out a baggie of change to pay for her $8.18 worth of tissue, etc. I could tell she was feeling timid about the baggie, but I was completely fine and did not think a thing of it. She was a bit shaky while counting the change and fumbling the money, so I piped in by telling her gently that she could take her time and that I was in no hurry. The cashier then caught on and immediately began to help the woman count the change, and in fact, told the woman she would take care of the counting for her.

The woman turned to me and said, "I'm sorry. I just got laid off a month ago, and now I am using my spare change to pay for things". I remained very, very soft with my energy and told her again that it was OK and that I was in no hurry. She seemed a bit shocked that I was not being impatient with her.

Then I intuitively said to her, "See, this is a perfect example how we can all take care of each other. I am a patient customer in line and the cashier is counting your money for you. This is how we should take care of each other all the time".

The look on her face indicated that I had hit her with a stun gun, but in a good way if that makes sense.
I could tell from her double take of me right then that she was truly taken back and touched by the interaction.

Then she was gone. The transaction ended and she left the store feeling better, I imagine, than when she came in. We both saw the power of the human spirit in action.

What she doesn't realize is how she impacted me. I saw every ounce of the fragility and beauty of life in that moment and felt such compassion for her from my heart. And the best part is that it had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with my choice to simply "be" in that coherent heart rhythm so that I could provide space for this woman to possibly feel better.

Can you imagine if I would have been frustrated in line? I can barely comprehend it because of how genuinely sweet and raw she was in that moment. It would not have served either one of us. And she probably would have thought my frustration had to do with her because she was already feeling somewhat down. And in reality, it would have had nothing to do with her, but perhaps the car on the street 5 minutes before that did not signal. What a mess in the making that was completely avoided by a simple choice: to be present.

May you have a lovely Holiday weekend.
Be kind to yourself...and others.

With love,