Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Happyness" and Anger

Recently  someone complained that my posts were too long, too professional, too "distant" and far too English! Although I can't do much about the latter, I thought I'd give this shorter more personal account to satisfy the more capitious amoungst us. 

I read a wonderful article in the New York Times called "The social animal" by David Brooks. Talking about the fact that people are "socially embedded creatures" he states:  "Neuroscientists have shown that we have permeable minds - When we watch someone doing something, we re-create their mental processes in our own brains as if we were performing that action ourselves, and it is through this process of deep imitation that we learn to empathize, and share culture." 

Well...this explains a lot of things. Like why it is that half way through the film "In pursuit of happyness" ("la ricerca dell Felicit√†" here in Italy)  I had to turn it off.  Why as a child I could never tolerate Lassie and how come I cry (literally - but with happiness) every time someone wins a gold medal in the Olympics no matter what nationality the winner happens to be. It's because I experience, I live what I see. We live what we see. And the 

pain that WIll Smith was very dexterously dealing with, was simply too close to the bone - simply too REAL for me to be able to enjoy. I didn't want to live what he was living through. SO I turned it off much to the disappointment/annoyance of Valerio (hubby). 

What implications does this have with anger? 

When I am desperately trying to get the kids dressed in the morning to go to school,  I try and squeeze them into my own personal living  rhythm and pace (which rightly so they resist). WHich at 08.45 in the morning is always too fast. Melitta immediately picks up on my need for velocity. Usually by slowing down. I usually have one response to this: 

I get cross. So what happens? Well....according to   to the neuroscientists above here mentioned, Melitta sees I am frustrated, she re-creates my mental state in her own mind and lives what I am going through. Sharp intake of breath. What is worse is that if she sees I do this every time I am under pressure she lives this experience and therefore REACTING (rather than acting) in this way under those circumstances  becomes a normal habit for her too.  Terrifying.

So what is the solution? 

Not getting cross is simply NOT  one (unless one is willing to go and hide away in a cave in the mountains - but personally I prefer Milan). Although I believe that every one has the ability to change I also believe that being cross and angry is not going to go away. The trick is not to "suffocate" this intense negative emotion but to DEAL with it.

Road map

This is my personal "road map" on what to do during the  "PLEASE get your socks ON!!!"  moments:  (ok - in theory at least) : 

I notice I get cross   (and this is the key - try to get a little time in between the anger and the reaction to the anger, and simply by noting what's going on  you are automatically allowing  yourself a little bit of mental space, in which you can choose how to "move")

I breathe slower

I lower my tone of voice

I speak more slowly

I make eye contact

Automatically this has an effect on your nervous system. Simply by slowing your breathing down your body feels more relaxed. (And then maybe Melitta - for example -  picking up on this   will feel too more relaxed too. Or at least NOT  like she wants to bang her head against a brick wall :-)  

A quick yogic tangent

In yoga, we are doing a position of balance, just before we fall our breathing becomes short and shallow. At that moment if you can remember to do the opposite - slow everything down, usually you can regain your balance as your nervous system receives the message that you are in fact quite relaxed, so there's no need to move (put rather "bluntly"). Of course the opposite is also true. If you breath shallowly your nervous system thinks it's time to MOVE. To DO something.

I like the idea of Melitta and Nina  learning the habit to,  in times of stress, simply breathe (slower) and wait.  And there's only one way she's going to do that - and that is by watching the adults around her doing the same. Gulp. Seeing it's difficult for ME I don't presume it's going to be simple for her either. But has to start. 

I here used the example of my daughter - but of course it could be anyone-  boss, your wife, husband, colleague. Whoever it is you usually get angry at  try as an experiment, to at least appear calm - so as not to "contaminate" the person you are talking to. You never know perhaps appearing to be calm will actually have the effect of making you feel calm. Stomping around huffing and puffing definitely  won't. 

To make it short:  slow down, breathe, wait, act.  It's not difficult to do, it's just difficult to remember. 

It's worth a try.

All the best.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Strength - getting down to the bare bones

The crane position

When discussing the merits of yoga what comes to mind is an increase in flexibility and concentration, sense of balance and interior calm, but rarely do you hear about the increase and importance of strength in yoga. Strength seems relegated to the supposedly sweaty depths of the weights room of a gym rather than the calming realms of the yoga studio. Which is a shame. Strength should and does play an integral part of yoga for many reasons; muscles are what keep the scaffolding of your bones in place, so it's worth keeping them strong. But apart from this, allowing your body to be put under physical pressure, to withstand weight does wonders for your skeleton - for your bones.

I've heard anecdotal evidence that one of the first human space trips ever undertaken had the russian astronaughts being carried out of the space ship - not due to some kind of hero's welcome but because their bone density had decreased to such an extent that walking may have caused bones to simply crumble and disintegrate. Although this is a nice story I've found little to back it up - but it does illustrate the concept nicely which is this;

Bones need weight (and pressure) to retain their density.

What happens to bones in a weight-less pressure-less atmosphere?

Weightless and Pressure-less atmosphere can be translated into “micro gravity” which is what astronaughts find themselves in up in space. The effects to the skeleton are devastating. Consider that here on earth we lose from between 1 – 2% of bone mass every ten years , whereas up in space that amount is lost every month. What does this mean? Well, it's bad news for those wanting to travel to Mars! the biggest obstacle to getting someone to the red planet is not financial nor technical but physiological; the bones of the astronaught would not withstand the journey. His or her skeleton would disintegrate before getting there.

So, for those of us back on earth what losing bone density adds up to is;


This is a bone-weakening disease that effects 75 million people through out Europe, USA and Japan. With age bones become so fragile that it takes a simple fall or knock to cause

a devastating fracture due to the decrease in mineral bone mass. 1 woman in 4 suffers from oseoporosis, but don't think men are exempt; 1 in 10 men suffer too. It's frightening to think that half of all women over 50 suffer from fractures due to this disease. Often called the “silent thief” , it surreptitiously does it's damage unseen and you don't actually realize until it's too late, until a bone has been broken.

Bones need stimulation and pressure to combat the loss in bone density. What happens when bones are not put under pressure? Basically they lose their ability to absorb nutrients. Technically it's a process called "bone resorption" which in layman's terms means that calcium is leaked from the bone into the blood stream. The bones without weight find themselves literally starved of the nutrients they need. However using weight and putting your body under physical pressure stimulates the vibrations of muscles against bones which in turn increases the bone absorption of nutrients fundamental to skeletal health.

If bones are not being "fed" and therefore "restored" they start to suffer.

I am not suggesting that all you need is yoga to combat oseperosis! What I am suggesting is that by carrying out and holding certain asana (yoga positions) one can stimulate bone growth. And the more you do that, the less fragile your bones will be, especially if combined with a calcium rich diet (be careful! fizzy

drinks block calcium absorption in bones, so if you take a calcium tablet with a swig of coke it's pretty pointless), exposure to sunlight (vitamin D) to name but a few.

The wheel pose

So this is good news for the weights room! And of course for those doing yoga - but only if one includes asana which work on strength in your practice, which is what I have found as an instructor, most women hate! What a shame considering it is women who benefit the most.

A little controversially in the yoga world perhaps, I am an advocate for weight training – this plus yoga is a great recipe for, amongst other things, healthy bones.

Another yogic food for thought as regards osteoporosis: the elderly who suffer the most from this disease break bones usually due to a fall of some kind. Why do they fall? Because they lose their balance. (seems obvious huh?) . If one does yoga regularly, including positions of balance in their daily (I'm a positive thinker) practice, there will be an improvement in ones sense of balance, meaning less risk of falling, which if you suffer from osteoporosis (and even if you don't) can only be a good thing. Even a the simple yet incredibly effective tree (vriksha-asana) position done regularly will increase your sense of balance. Try it.

Strength promoting asana include;

Crane pose (Bakasana)

Peacock pose (Mayurasana)

The plank pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

The wheel pose (chakra-asana)

The tree pose (balance rather than strength)