Tuning In to Intuition

Intuition is our ability to “know” something without it coming from the rational mind.  It is often called the “sixth sense” because it is another way we 'sense” and perceive information other than the 5 senses.  Intuition is something we all have the ability to access, it isn't some special skill that only some people have.  Most of us have had instances of just "knowing" something in one form or another, whether getting a “feeling”, getting a “sense” about something or someone, or “vibes” upon entering a place.

Most of us have not been taught or encouraged to listen to or trust our intuition. As a child, you may have seen or sensed things and when you said it, others may have said “That's not true”, challenged you with” How do you know that?” or worse ”That's crazy!”.  As adults, these are often the same reactions we get from others!  It's hard to defend with rational explanations information you get through non-rational means. This is one of the reasons you'll doubt information you get intuitively.  If you can't explain how you “know” something, you learn to doubt it, explain it away, tune it out. You may become afraid of it or wonder if you are crazy! 

You can definitely learn to get better at tuning in to intuition.  Start with simply noticing whenever you get an intuitive answer or feeling. One method is to notice:  Am I getting a “yes” or a “no” about this decision, situation, direction/choice?  Be honest with yourself even if the answer is scary, For example, no, I know this relationship isn't right, yes, I know I should leave this job or yes, I get a good sense of this person, I'll hire them, no I don't trust this person.

There are many times in the course of a week you can tune in to an intuitive yes or no.  Notice how the mind jumps in to challenge or override it. Don't get sucked in and try to figure it out, listen to what you know instantly without any effort.  Then act on what you know.

Keep track of what comes to you intuitively so you can look back over time to see: how often you were right or wrong?  What I hear most often from clients is “I knew this but I pushed it away or talked myself out of it (or let others talk me out of it)”.  Think about instances in your life when you didn't listen to your intuition and what happened? How often were you right?  You increase trusting and listening to your intuition when you see how often you can count on it.

As you get better at tuning in and listening to your intuition you realize you can trust this part of yourself that has a different kind of knowing and wisdom. On the one hand, you'll see more and more that you can't lie to yourself, you can't discount what you know is true or what you need to do because you know that it ultimately comes back at you. On the other hand, following your intuition is empowering because by listening to yourself and trusting yourself you make decisions that you know are right for you! 

Self Care: Life Balance

Many people come to me to get help with wanting more balance in their life. What does "a balanced life" even mean? What would your life be like if you were living a more balanced life?

One definition of balance is: "Containing different elements in suitable quantities or suitably arranged to produce a satisfying and effective whole."

A balanced life is when you have a harmonious distribution of your energy, your life force, YOU, into the different areas of life that are important to your overall well- being.

Areas of A Balanced Life:
Health/Physical Body
Social Support/Friendships
Personal Growth/Learning
Play and Fun

When you are out of balance too much of your time and energy is focused in some of these areas and not enough in others. You may not stop and think about choices you are making on a daily basis that bring your life either more or less into balance.

For example: Some people put all their time and energy into work and have very little left for their health or fun. Others may put a lot of their energy into their intimate relationship or family, taking care of others, but getting out of balance in not taking care of themselves in other ways like seeing friends or exercising.

Questions for Self-Reflection:
If there is an area of your life that seems out of balance?
What would bring it more into balance?
What choices have you made that contribute to being out of balance?
How might you be putting too much or too little of your time and energy into an area of your life?

What's a small step you could take to change how you use your time and energy?

Examples of changes you could make:
I will go for a 10 minute walk 3 times a week
I will leave work no later than 6 P.M.
I will say "No" once a day
I will do one thing just for me everyday
I will meditate for 5 minutes a day
I will do 1 fun thing a week
I will put $20.00 a week into a vacation fund
I will spend 30 minutes per week cleaning closet/desk/garage/storage

Is there a small, even tiny step you could commit to take in the next week? Doing this consistently over time is how you get from where you are to where you want to be. If you need help with where to start or how to chunk down what to begin with, we can work on that together as well as keeping you motivated and on track.

For the areas of your life you are satisfied with, ask yourself:
What choices have I made that contributed to living a more balanced life?  What did I say "yes" to or "no" to to create more balance?

Acknowledge yourself for the choices you have made and the actions you have taken that contribute to having more balance in your life.

I hope this helps you take steps towards creating more balance in your life and taking care of yourself!

Practicing Self Care: Exercise

Your body: its both your vehicle and the house you live in. Just like you make sure you maintain your vehicle, get tune ups and keep it running well, exercise is the other aspect of self care (along with sleep and eating) that contributes to your body functioning well. Just like you make sure your house, its plumbing, electrical, etc. is maintained in working order, exercise contributes to keeping your body in working order. All the research validates a simple principle for health and hi functioning longevity: “Use it or lose it”. This applies to the body as well as brain. Regular exercise not only contributes to the body continuing to function well as you age but contributes to your brain functioning well as you age too.

Clients I work with who struggle to exercise have common reasons: I'm too tired, I don't feel like it, I'm too busy, I don't have the time, I don't want to get up earlier, I don't like to exercise, It's too hot/cold/rainy, I'm embarrassed what I look like. The topic typically comes up when someone feels crappy, has gained weight or is really tired, depressed, stressed out, feeling unhealthy, not good in their body. The hardest part is getting started, overcoming inertia and then, sticking with regular exercise. So, what works?

Exercise has to be planned into your schedule. I'm talking about 10 minutes for starters, 20 is ideal. When can you find 10-20 minutes? The simplest exercise to start with is walking. Not slow window shopping but a regular, focused walk. Look at your daily schedule. Can you find 10 minutes in the morning? What about during lunch time or taking a break during the day? Many people find its best to not go directly home after work but to go for a walk first (keep workout clothes in the car). Right now figure out when you can schedule it at least 3x week (every other day is best) and put it in your phone (forever!) with reminders, if needed. The important attitude to have is that this is a priority, you do not cancel these appointments with yourself any more than you'd cancel important Dr. appointment if you were not well.

Now, think about all the things that might get in the way, whether external things: job, kids, weather, or internal things like tiredness, not feeling like it, etc. There will always be reasons you can come up with! How will you deal with these things? Knowing which external things can interfere, come up with a strategy to deal with each thing. Knowing your internal blocks, the good news is: you don't have to want to exercise, you don't have to be into it, you can be tired, not feel good, have no enthusiasm whatsoever. Feeling better comes after you exercise, not before! You have to remind yourself of this over and over: I'll feel so much better afterwards. Ignore the voice in your head giving you reasons not to. What would you, as a friend, say to a friend who said those things but you knew wanted to make this change? Say those things to yourself and get going, we're only talking 10-20 minutes! These are all ways I help as a life coach: focus on setting manageable, achievable goals, anticipating inner or outer obstacles, developing strategies to deal with them and being accountable to someone to help you stay on track. Alternatively, committing to exercise with someone (friend, colleague, partner, dog) or telling everyone your plan can also help you do it and be accountable. Support always helps.

Once you can sustain a change for a few weeks its starting to become a new “habit' which then becomes easier to sustain. I shall now share my own story as an example:  I was a kid who never exercised, was not athletic, dreaded gym, would always get picked last, you know the type! (bookworm, etc. and still am). I discovered yoga in college and found that it was noncompetitive (and there was no pressure to be good at it), relaxing and centering, which I enjoyed. This was when only weirdo hippies even heard of yoga (yes, I was that too, glad I evolved past that fashion phase). Anyway, I did that for a year or so, my first ever positive experience of being in my body through exercise. One day I heard about something called Jazzercise being offered, it was pitched as noncompetitive exercise/dancing and it sounded fun. Remember, this was before “aerobic classes” was even a thing and gyms were for bodybuilders, not for regular people. The point is, I went and although I was challenged and not too coordinated, it was kinda fun. I went 2x week. I met a woman in class who became a good friend and we committed to meeting at class 2x then 3x a week for years. This was the turning point to my sticking with exercise. Fast forward, I did Jazzercise for 20 years working up to 5x per week. This was unbelievable for a former avoider of exercise! I eventually switched to joining a gym where I do my own thing (something aerobic and weights) 5x week. I am still not an athlete, I am still uncoordinated, I still suck at sports and dread anything competitive but I found ways to make exercise work for me and I know you can too! I'd love to help you get started or change up what you're doing so you can take care of yourself through exercise.

Practicing Self Care: You Are What You Eat

What goes in your mouth becomes your body, affects your brain functioning, mental clarity, ability to focus (or not), your mood and emotions, your overall sense of well-being and how you feel in your body. How do you take care of yourself (or not) by what you eat as well as how you eat? 

Many people I see in my practice have some sort of issue or concern about eating. The most common issue is emotional eating, meaning: eating when you're feeling something as a way to deal with (or not) deal with the feeling.  So when you feel stressed, anxious, sad, angry, tired, even bored, food becomes the thing to go to as a way to somehow soothe, distract or push down the feeling. Food can also serve to numb out so that you don't feel the feeling anymore, like when you eat a lot at once or binge. The focus then becomes the overeating, feeling bad about that as well as not feeling good physically, which takes the focus off the original feeling you were experiencing.
The way to work with yourself if you're an emotional eater is to first recognize this is what's even happening. You may not be aware of your feelings right before you're eating, you may truly think you're hungry! So, the first step is to pause and notice what you're feeling. Sad? Mad? Scared? Something else? Can you take a few minutes to feel what you're feeling? This means to allow yourself to experience the emotion, let yourself process or “digest” the feeling. Feelings are like waves: they have a beginning, middle and end, they start, feel stronger in the middle and then if you allow the feeling to run its course, it will naturally decrease. If you breathe and let the feeling happen, it will eventually be over with. Most clients tell me they are afraid they'll cry “forever' or be mad or scared with no end. But its really when you “resist” a feeling and try to stuff it or stop it or avoid it, then its prolonged, like you hit a pause button on it and it stays stuck, suspended, unprocessed, undigested in your space. Unprocessed feelings get backlogged and stored up and can show up as body symptoms: headaches, digestive issues, assorted pains, illnesses. When you learn to identify and process your feelings, you learn you can 'handle' them, you learn you can stay with yourself and take care of your feelings directly instead of using food.
Once you can identify what you're feeling, ask yourself what do you need that's not food? You may need to talk to someone, ask if they can just listen for a few minutes to what you're feeling. Maybe you need a hug or someone to just be with you. If you're alone, write down whatever you're feeling, unedited, in a journal.  Some people like to do something creative or listen to or play music. Maybe go for a walk or do more vigorous exercise to help you allow the feeling to move through you. Or take a few minutes and just sit, ask yourself what's the feeling and allow it.  Or, listen to one of the guided meditations I have on my Media page. (link). Many people need help with their relationship with food and managing feelings because they weren't taught how to deal with and process feelings in a healthy way and many people were taught, usually by example, to use food in unhealthy ways.
To distinguish emotional eating from actual hunger, start to recognize what are the signs when you are actually hungry? Is your stomach growling? Some people feel a little light headed, some get a little irritable, some get low energy, some get shaky, headachy. When you can identify actual hunger, you can become able to tell the difference between eating when hungry and emotional eating.
Then, when you do eat when you're actually hungry:  How are you eating? Are you eating unconsciously? Meaning: you're not even conscious of the taste, smell, texture of the food in your mouth, enjoying the pleasure of food. Many people eat while driving, watching TV, or working and barely notice what they're eating. Could you take at least 5 minutes to stop and eat and only focus on enjoying the food? If you can't find 5 minutes then contact me because there's clearly other issues, like being overloaded, you need help with!
Are you eating too fast? It actually takes 20 minutes for it to register from stomach to brain that you are full. So when you eat fast, you eat too much because your stomach hasn't has enough time for your brain to get the message that you've had enough. That's why you feel so full/stuffed after about 20 minutes and realize “Uh, I ate too much”. If you eat more slowly, then when you hit 20 minutes, you'll naturally feel you've had enough. Or, eat a little, wait 20 minutes, and then see how much more you really want.

Finally, what are you eating?  What you eat has a significant affect on how you feel physically, mentally and emotionally. How do you feel after eating certain foods?  Are you eating foods that don't agree with you and have you feel tired, queasy,  indigestion, bloated, gassy or worse? For example, many people are noticing they feel better if they don't eat gluten even if they don't technically have any diagnosed condition. Why not try gluten free for a week or two and notice if you feel any difference? Many clients report feeling less bloated. Other suggestions to try for a week or two: no sugar, no processed foods, no fast food. Consider it an experiment: eliminate something to notice how you feel.
Another aspect of certain foods that have been shown to affect how we feel is probiotics, beneficial bacteria in your gut. The latest research in psychology and biology, “Psychobiotics” (you heard it here first!) has found probiotics can influence levels of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) that affect depression, anxiety, stress hormones, even pain! Probiotics are found in foods such as yogurt, kefir, cultured cheese, cultured butter, cultured sour cream, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, dark chocolate, kombucha tea.  Pick one of these to eat a day or there are supplements in capsules.
There are many more ways you can learn to take care of yourself through how and what you eat.  If you'd like help with your relationship with food, you know how to reach me!

Practicing Self Care: Sleep

Lets get started on practicing better self care with the body basics: sleeping, eating, exercise. It's through the body that you are here. Your being, your presence, the unique spirit that is you shows up through the body. How you take care of or don't take care of your body has an enormous effect on the quality of your presence and ability to truly show up in life.

Today I’ll focus on sleep, next, eating, then exercise.

Sleep. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the latest research by sleep experts, most adults age 18-64 need 7-9 hours sleep per night, age 65+ needs 7-8 hours, children and teenagers need much more depending on age. More than 1/3 of people don't get enough sleep! You know how you feel and function when you're tired. Sleep is the best way for the body to process stress hormones and inflammatory chemicals that contribute to disease. Sleep is when your brain processes what you learned and experienced during the day, as well as integrate things into memory. The saying “sleep on it” recognizes we need to process and consolidation experiences through sleep.

Think about: what small changes would you like to make to make sure you get enough sleep? Here are some simple ideas to help you take steps towards that goal:
  1. For some people it's a simple as deciding and committing to go to sleep at a certain time instead of being inconsistent. What time do you know would be better for you? Do it for a week and notice the difference in how you feel and function.
  2. Get a blue light filter for your phone, tablet or computer, even TV. There are actual thin screens you can buy that go on the device (I have this) or there are apps available. This is helpful if you use your devices at night before bed and who doesn't nowadays? The shortwave blue light from devices can really effect your sleep because it has your brain think it's daytime and affects melatonin which is the hormone that get secreted as it becomes dark to help you sleep.
  3. Aim towards not using any device for at least an hour before the time you want to be asleep. (I know, that's hard). More than an hour is better but any step in the direction of not staring at a blue screen before bed helps. Start slowly if you need to wean yourself by having no screen time for 15 minutes before sleep. Do this for a week then increase to ½ hour for a week, then keep increasing time. Extremely important for kids too. Reading anything on actual paper (a book!) with a regular old light bulb is better because neither has the shortwave LED blue in it.
  4. Another act of self care you could take during time away from a device screen before sleep:  Write in a journal. This is one of the best exercises that has been studied and found to reduce stress, anxiety, depression and improve mood and well-being:  Take just a few minutes to write down 5 things you're grateful for from that day. It can be little things like: I had a delicious lunch, there was a seat on BART, I had a pleasant interaction with someone at work, warm coffee felt and tasted good, I took a 10 minute walk, the weather was nice, I was kind to a stranger, I had a good hair day. Or bigger things like: I completed a particular task, I gave myself a break instead of beating myself up over something, I gave someone else a break instead of expressing irritation with them, I ate healthy food all day, I took dog for a long refreshing walk, I have a comfortable place to live, I have a job that enables me to live here in the Bay Area. Try to think of different things each day. The goal is to do this as a daily practice right before going to sleep.
  5. Listen to a guided meditation to relax and unwind. I have a number of them on my Media page that I have personally recorded if you'd like to hear my familiar voice. Try the first one called “Letting Go”.  Sweet dreams should follow!

Next time, I’ll be addressing another body basic of self care: eating and after that, exercise.   

Welcome to Helene's Blog

Hello! Welcome to my first blog post. I plan to cover any and all aspects of mind-body-spirit as these are all areas addressed in therapy or life coaching with me. Since I am here to help you make positive changes in any of these areas, expect me to cover everything from spirituality to food. I will make recommendations for books and cite relevant research in psychology, science, health and related fields as well as give you specific things to think about and put into practice in your life.

I've been a psychotherapist and life coach for over 25 years and its clear to me that much of the foundation of problems and your ability to solve them is not taking care of yourself. So, lets start with this foundation: Self-Care.

There's a big misconception that taking care of yourself is “selfish”, that it's self indulgent and there's much larger or more important problems in the world, your community, family, you name it, than taking care of yourself. It is a radical move to decide you are going to commit to your own self care but it's crucial you decide to do so. You are not going to be as much use to anyone (or the world) if you are exhausted, overloaded, stressed out, eating crap, unhealthy and not taking care of yourself in any number of ways.

The more you take care of yourself, the better you show up in your life and with others, the more you are using your full capabilities, the more fully present you are. Then, you are more able to engage and contribute in meaningful ways and you feel better in the process! You are happier and more effective in the world at work or as a parent, partner, friend.

What are the areas to focus on when looking to improve your self care? I'll start with your body and the basics: sleeping, eating, exercise. In future blog posts I'll be discussing other aspects of self care including your emotions, mind and spirituality.
Emotional self care will address areas such as awareness of feelings, recognizing and processing them, letting go (how to).
Mental self care will address how to not believe everything you think, how to calm, distract, challenge and shift your focus away from troublesome thinking.

Spiritual self care will address what spirituality even is to you or how to discover it. When do you feel most connected to yourself or others, nature, something larger than yourself, a sense of peace, joy, that feeling when you are in a flow and lose track of time, intuition (which we'll explore in depth as well) or truth, for example?

Another aspect of self care is how we talk to ourselves. Do you treat yourself with care, kindness, compassion, and a sense of humor? We are usually more mean, critical and judgmental towards ourselves than we are towards everyone else. What if you talked to yourself (in your head, not out loud, at least not in public!) like you would talk to a best friend? What if you were understanding, supportive, forgiving of yourself? Now that's radical! I'll be elaborating on this topic in future posts.