Doing Nothing Isn’t Easy


Meditation never came easy for me. Sitting cross-legged, back straight, hands on my knees, eyes closed, saying ‘ahm’ repeatedly feels awkward. On the other hand, I began practicing yoga – on and off – when living in Alaska six years ago. Walking or snowshoeing when 50 below isn’t fun especially with CFS/ME and fibromyalgia. Yoga dvds work for my life style.

A wandering mind always proved frustrating when I tried meditating in the past.  Instead of calming, I grew impatient sitting there.  My mind runs six thousand thoughts a minute when trying to sleep, read, or any other idle moments.  I couldn’t push aside thoughts while meditating.

In addition to yoga, I use deep breathing in hopes of lowing blood pressure before the nurse wraps the sleeve around my arm, reduce some anxiety before participating in unpleasant situations, and occasionally even in hopes of falling asleep.  The last exercise rarely works.

What I did not know is that the beginning and end of many routines I practice in yoga include several minutes of lying or sitting still and focusing on the breath actually is meditation in its simplest form. Reading Kabat-Zinn’s book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, I learned  lying on my back with eyes closed and bringing attention to breathing is meditation.  Also, a wandering mind is totally normal and a-okay!  I either read or heard in a podcast on meditation that thinking of thoughts is a wave that flows in and out during the process of meditation.

If a critical piece of mindfulness is daily meditation, I need practice and patience or my journey ends before getting started.

I try remembering daily that I need a few minutes but have yet to make it routine. Usually, it seems that I forget until I’m lying in bed wishing I could sleep.  Sometimes, I close my door at work and try while sitting at my desk or after I feed the dogs and before making dinner.  I glance at the clock before closing my eyes and breathe.  Inevitably, thoughts take over.  I continue breathing and remember thoughts are simply ‘a wave’.  But they feel more like a rip tide pulling me away from my intent and the next thing I know, my eyes are open and two or on a good day, five minutes have passed.

Today, while hubby was napping, laundry was washing, and dinner was progressing I lay down on my bed.  The thoughts continued to roll ashore as I inhaled then I tried letting go with each exhale.  Inhale, and a new thought drifted in, exhale and I let it go.  When opening my eyes, 25 minutes had passed!

I felt calm and ready to get back to house duties.  I start a new job in a couple of weeks and start about an hour later.  Meditation could be a mindful way to start my day.

My Journey Towards Mindfulness


Listening to my dogs and husband’s breathing while they slept the other night reminded me that taking slow deep breaths relaxes me and eases anxiety. Stress and letting go are constant battles in my brain.  The former can aggravate chronic and mental illness and pain.  I practice yoga and other exercises that are gentle on my body  (though, admittedly, not lately) and learned some time ago the value of deep breathing.  Not the most disciplined person, I find myself needing more – a tangible, realistic way of letting go of circumstances that are toxic to my brain.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Watching Anderson Cooper on a 60 Minutes report on mindfulness, my curiosity piqued when Cooper said research of the practice showed positive results for sufferers of chronic illness.   Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Stress Reduction and Relaxing Program (later renamed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979.  While he studied Buddhism, Kabat-Zinn prefers taking a scientific approach to mindfulness and apparently, it works.  American Mindfulness Research was created in 2013 to support empirical and conceptual data as well as develop best practices.

According to the website: www.mindful.org: “Mindfulness is the innate ability we have to be present, composed, and to pause before we overreact to the challenges of our busy lives.”

I’m intrigued that practicing mindfulness can improve physical, as well as, mental health.  The practice may also improve eating habits and insomnia.  Through research and practice, I hope I can better manage stressful situations – especially those that I cannot change – and improve my health.  Never before disciplined with daily meditation, I recently started listening to a podcast offering free mindful meditations (Mindful Meditations) before sleep.  I think I’m ready to take the next step and practice mindfulness in my daily life.

In addition to the websites mentioned above, I’m reading two books by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

Mindfulness for Beginners 
Wherever You Go, There You Are  

I welcome comments from readers who practice mindfulness and anyone who wants to join me on my journey.

A Season of Joy


My family is Jewish and when I was young, we played with the dreidel , received small gifts each of the eight nights as well as Chanukah gelt (Yiddish term for money) in the form of gold foiled chocolates.  We also lit the candles on the menorah  each night. as a remembrance of the rededication of the Holy Temple when the Maccabean Jews reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem in a revolt against the  Syrian-Greeks in the second century b.c  The miracle of the Jewish holiday, Chanukah, was that only one oil lamp with enough oil for one day was found when cleaning the Temple. The lamp stayed lit for 8 days and we honor this miracle each year by lighting the menorah at 8 days at sunset with the number of candles reminding us of the 8 day miracle.

As a child, my family lived in a community where the majority of friends and neighbors were Christian, we also hung a sock on the mantel so Chanukah Charlie would visit us on Christmas eve.  No tree, though – that was too much.  As an adult, I never felt terribly connected to the holidays – though the vacation days were always a welcome gift.

Now, I need a balance of time during the interlude of holiday break.  Most years, we celebrate Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with my husband’s family.  Circumstances and low energy kept us from spending the long turkey weekend with my family this year.  But it was wonderful having just my husband and I together with our own family dinner.

We'll be sitting on the porch this week watching the grass grow - if the sun comes out.
We’ll be sitting on the porch this week watching the grass grow – if the sun comes out.

This weekend I planned to join my husband and travel to his mom’s where the family of all ages will celebrate. For reasons that I won’t  mentioned, I am now staying home and enjoying my dogs and my house.  My mom and brother are flying in next week so I will finally spend some quality time with them.

Hooch waits for that cricket to jump
Hooch waits for that cricket to jump

I was single until 50 and always enjoyed my solitude.  This weekend, I am going to make the very best of ‘me’ time.  I’m going to stay up late, sleep in, cook, and piddle around the house. The anger that festered the last couple of days subsided and I’m mindful of how blessed I am to have loved ones supporting and respecting my needs.

Maybe I’ll have a miracle of my own and find my menorah that seems to have disappeared after one too many moves.

There will be lots of this at our house this weekend!
There will be lots of this at our house this weekend!

Regardless of faith, interest, and circumstances – whether surrounded by loved ones or relaxing alone – appreciate yourself, take time to reflect on all the wonders of life.

Tips from my Website


You can conquer any mountain
You can conquer any mountain

Below are tips for sufferers of chronic illness from my website LB Webb Coach.  Check out more useful information at www.lbwebbcoach.com
Please Note: It is important to talk with your physician, physical therapist or other licensed professionals before trying new physical activities or tools.

Find a Trusted Medical Professional – Communicating with your physician is critical. This is the most important advice I can offer.   Go to appointments with lists of questions.  I can offer suggestions on how you can self-advocate.  If you are not comfortable with your physician and (s)he minimizes your concerns, find another!! Talk candidly about medications and if one doesn’t work, explain how it makes you feel and try something else. If unable to find a physician who doesn’t listen or make you feel valued, acupuncturists, physical therapists, and other health professionals may help.

A Trusting Ear – Good mental health is an important part of your health program. It is important to have someone to share frustrations as well as successes. Ideally, everyone needs multiple people they trust depending on the circumstances. Family members, friends, professional therapists, life coaches can all be considered. The key is finding someone who you know who does not judge you, accepts you, and appreciates you.

Exercise – Start slow and easy but do something! Whether walking for 5 minutes; sweeping the floor; practicing tai chi or yoga, it is very important to get into a routine of using muscles and joints. Swimming is probably the best exercise for chronic pain and illness as it easier on joints and muscles. Many pools offer classes specially designed for people like us.

I knitted this baby blanket for a loved one.
I knitted this baby blanket for a loved one.

Find a Hobby –  Knitting, crotchet,  creating scrapbooks, photography, bird watching, gardening or anything that is pleasurable for you and takes your mind off your pain is important.

Massage – Many people in pain (particularly fibromyalgia patients) cringe at the idea of anyone touching let alone massaging muscles. Communicating with the massage therapist can make the experience both pleasurable and helpful.

Pampering – Part of the massage experience feels good because it’s important to be good to yourself.  If massages are not comfortable, try a manicure and pedicure (not just for women anymore).  Going to a matinee, museum or having lunch with friends can  feel like a treat.

Warmth – Baths, hot compresses and heating pads, preferably moist, provide temporary relief.

Massage Foam Rollers – Using gentle pressure on targeted areas by moving the roller back and forth on the floor can be very painful in some areas at first. But even doing a few times at first, muscles are more relaxed and fascia (connective tissue that surrounds muscles and nerves) are lengthened and softer.

TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) Unit – TENS is a pocket-size device that sends electrical impulses to block pain signals. Electrical currents are mild but can ease specific areas of pain. TENS is not helpful for migrating pain.   NOTE: Ask physician or physical therapist about TENS and how to use it properly.

Like my facebook page at:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/LB-Webb-Coach-for-people-with-Chronic-Illness-Pain/328980187115314

I can help you live a joyful life.  Contact me for a free consultation at laurawebb@lbwebbcoach.com

Fashion Designer Wanted


I bet I will get a number of hits from people looking for their big break in starting the latest fashion trend but will stop reading this as soon as they learn what I blog about. The truth is that those of us with chronic illness find the demands of looking fashionable in high heels, tight-fitting jeans and diving necklines too painful.

Long before diagnosis, buttoned slacks and skirts were difficult for me to tolerate. As a professional, I tried to look sharp but when possible, I hid in my office with my jacket off, skirt unbuttoned, and blouse untucked. In some cases, I admit that my waistline grew, but more often, the clothes didn’t feel tight as much as imprisoning as I imagine a straight jacket might feel. The minute I came home, the clothes went flying off and sweats were put on. I could breathe again.   I managed to find some designers passed as presentable in the business world.  I found outfits by  Eileen Fisher and the store Chico’s  kind to those of us with tender nerves but most cared little about comfort.

I could no longer bear panty hose, for the confinement of my legs proved unbearable.  In the summer, I could get away with tanned legs and open toed shoes but winters were more of a challenge.  I often wore pant coordinates and suits but I like the freedom of dresses and skirts.  Midi and maxi lengthed skirts allowed me to get away with knee highs. Can you imagine the horror that Stacey and Clinton of that cable tv show What not to Wear might experience if they ever learned of my fashion style?  If  an ambush makeover was ever attempted on me, I’m  certain they’d give up.

I am fortunate now that style is not as important when working from my home in rural Texas.  Drawstring sweatpants and XL t-shirts are not offensive to the computer or telephone.  I don’t have to impress anyone at the grocery store or bank and I have found blue jeans and other casual clothes that are comfortable.

But I do think the fashion gurus need to give those of us who have tender nerves and are often in pain a break.  High heels, zippers, buttons, and ties are not conducive to our bodies.  Since there are millions of us out there struggling to make it through the day, it sure would be nice if someone would keep those of us with painful joints, muscles, and nerves in mind when you create your next fashion trend.

Be Inspired: Your Brain


Imagine changing your way of life by improving the function of your brain.   Mind & body expert and bestselling author, Deepak Chopra, claims we can do just that in an article I read recently on the CNN website.  Apparently, we can make our brains work better simply by thinking we can improve them and the best way for us to relate to our brain is to ‘inspire it’.

According to Chopra, "thinking your brain into better functioning is the most efficient way to improve it.
According to Chopra, “thinking your brain into better functioning is the most efficient way to improve it.

The ways Chopra suggests improving brain function are also important aspects of living better despite chronic illness & pain that I coach my clients.  The brain is a powerful muscle requiring exercise and a bit of TLC for best results. By changing how we think of ourselves, new adventures and opportunities await.

Below is an abbreviated list on how you can inspire your brain to work better:

  • Manage stress
  • Avoid dull routines
  • Do something creative everyday
  • Read something inspirational everyday
  • Take time daily to relax, meditate, self-reflect
  • Deal with negative emotions such as anxiety and anger
  • Love and Be loved – it’s a worthwhile risk
  • Take some time to notice and appreciate nature daily
  • Follow a personal vision – how do you want to live your life?
  • Participate in at least one activity that fulfills
  • Get involved in a cause that is bigger than you.

The article continues with thoughts in your brain that you should ignore.  Not surprisingly, the thoughts to ignore are: passivity such as letting life take care of itself; inflexibility in daily routines and opinions; and allowing feelings of stress, anger or anxiety get the best of you.

For many of us, inspiring our brain may seem like an overwhelming task.  But with encouragement and patience, I believe everyone can do it.  I also think it especially important for sufferers of chronic illness to work on inspiring their brain, for it is through these activities that living better becomes possible.

Chopra’s CNN article can be found at:  http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/04/health/chopra-better-brain/index.html?hpt=hp_bn12

 

Live more joyfully despite chronic illness.  

Contact me at laurawebb@lbwebbcoach.com and let’s schedule time to chat!

 

Learning Sense from a Horse


For readers and followers who may not know, we adopted a horse last spring that our niece rescued. She did a great job of fattening Amigo up and ground training him over the five months she had him. When he arrived at our home, I attempted a technique developed by world-renowned horse trainer, Monty Roberts, called “Join-Up” to develop a trusting relationship between Amigo and me.  Simply put, Join-Up utilizes horse communication and herd behavior to develop a willing working relationship between horse and trainer.  I have read about and seen Join-Up for many times over the years and was fortunate to experience it for the first time last spring.

Things went great over the summer and into the fall.  Amigo’s gentle demeanor and trusting nature made grooming a breeze and a visit from the farrier who clips Amigo’s hooves trouble-free.  When the dogs and I took our morning romps in the pasture, Amigo usually strolled to me to say hello then either ignored the dogs or allowed them to chase him.

A few weeks ago, I noticed a change.   Amigo trotted towards me with his head high in an aggressive posture.  He bucked and kicked at the dogs before galloping off for the chase to begin.  At first, I attributed his behavior on the cooler weather and refused to believe he wanted to hurt the dogs.   When following me, Amigo began pushing and nipping and ran off bucking and kicking when I pushed him away.   I became wary of walking in the pasture.  My sweet Palomino gelding somehow transformed into a domineering and dangerous

Amigo greeting me over the fence.
Amigo greeting me over the fence.

stallion seemingly overnight.

As I tried to analyze what had transpired with Amigo, I realized his behavior coincided when I was in the depths of depression.  A seemingly endless flare-up of CFS/ME and Fibromyalgia.  I lost control of my so many parts of my life – my web of life was in tatters.

The Web of Life
The Web of Life

My brain was in a constant fog, sleep remained elusive, and neither meds nor yoga/qi gong stretches eased the aches and pains.   Now my horse whom I took such pride in developing a bond was turning on me.  One of the few pleasant moments of my day, walking my dogs in the morning,  became a frightening anxiety-filled experience.

I was not sure if the problem was me or Amigo until a particularly scary moment when I thought I could ‘manage’ Amigo and groom him alone in the pasture.  It almost turned dangerous for me after I tied Amigo  to the fence and I began grooming him.  He suddenly pushed me against the fence and was readying to kick me when I pushed back and he pulled against the rope until he freed himself.  While I defused Amigo’s anger, trembled with fear.  Driving home from work, my husband saw our stand-off.  He climbed the fence, walked to Amigo and took the lead rope dangling from his halter.

It was at that moment, my husband and horse together, when I realized that I transferred my emotional energy  to Amigo.  He was either uncomfortable or taking advantage of my vulnerability.  And that realization brought me back to my senses.  I needed to start from scratch with Amigo.  Instead of managing him, I needed to invite him to Join-Up with me again and rebuild our relationship. The change in my medications were finally starting to work well and my pain was decreasing as my quality of sleep was improving.

It is time to strengthen my Web of Life.

The Jewish wedding dance, the Hora, requires trusting people to carry the bride & groom.
The Jewish wedding dance, the Hora, requires trusting people to carry the bride & groom.

I rely more heavily on my support system these days and believe that this experience is another valuable life lesson for me.

Amigo and I are doing the dance and rebuilding our relationship.   I am grateful to him for waking me up to my shortcomings and for not hurting me or my dogs in the process.