Tag Archives: Health

Yoga + Meditation + Gratitude = Longer, Healthier Life.

Pulse

 

Here is my latest cover article for Pulse Magazine. I write for a lot of magazines, so why am I posting this one on my blog? Because it is for a traditional hospital publication. It reiterates what I’ve known for a long time. There is now NO doubt that yoga, meditation and a gratitude practice lengthens life, improves health, boosts mental outlook, and reduces pain and the intensity of disease. I love when I get the chance to write, research, and interview experts on topics I’m passionate about. I began doing yoga and meditating more than 10 years ago due to a bad back, a nasty divorce, and the stress of rearing a baby and a young son solo. The journey has helped me battle auto-immune disease and dark moments. I have taken multiple yoga trainings and now teach, while also free-lance writing. My life is more positive. I feel joy on the daily. I am more patient and more present with my boys. And I see how much yoga has helped my yoga students who are in pain from cancer or arthritis or injuries.

Now physicians and scientists in the West confirm what I have felt and seen through many studies conducted at Harvard, the Centers for Disease Control, UCLA and elsewhere. Some studies showed how meditation and a gratitude practice helped to reduce cancer tumors and/ or the intensity of pain and side-effects from cancer treatments such as chemo or radiation. Other studies showed an increase in memory from meditation. Others showed how meditation, especially, increased the capacity for joy and reduced depression.

 

One day I envision an America where therapeutic yoga and meditation classes will be a standard benefit offered within corporations and covered by medical insurance policies. Lowering stress means reducing toxic cortisol and glucagon hormones within the body. It is widely accepted within western medicine that cancer grows within acidic environments. It is also known that a flush in cortisol, (that happens when individuals are stressed or anxious or angry) causes the gut to not thoroughly digest vitamins and nutrients correctly. This flush of cortisol also tightens connective tissue which reduces the flow of our lymph system and makes us more vulnerable to the flu. Stress also increases inflammation, ramps up blood pressure, creates tension headaches, muscle spasms and even increases the chance of stroke and heart beat irregularity. Taking preventative care of ourselves ought to be a primary concern—and not just for the privileged and wealthy in this country. I’m glad to know that yoga and meditation is now taught at reduced rates in hospitals (where I also teach) and community centers, as yoga studios can charge high rates. Most yoga studios, however, will also offer low-fee community classes once a week, which I highly encourage people to try.

Here’s to a low stress and blessed week.

Namaste ~

Laura

 

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Accountability

zenfulpanda

Eastern spiritual traditions teach that our outer world reflects our inner world. For some, that sounds crazy. I have friends from my previous profession as a journalist who get downright angry with that yogic theory and lament: “Did I manifest that drunk driver who crashed into me?” Or: “Did that starving child cause the war and famine?” Or: “Are you really going to tell a person with stage 4 cancer that she’s responsible for her disease because of her shitty thinking?!”

 

Many Western intellectuals call ‘bullshit’ on Buddhist, Taoist, or Hindi philosophies that yogis espouse, things like: ‘Thoughts Become Things’ or ‘Aham Brahmasmi’, a Hindi mantra used in meditation meaning: “I am the Universe.”

 

But somewhere between the chaos theory, (or fuck it, everything is random)—and Aham Brahmasmi—a belief that Universal light lives within each soul, linking us all and allowing us to channel this force to manifest our dharma, our purpose—is a humbling and oft-neglected puzzle piece. That puzzle piece is a powerful dose of accountability.

 

To be accountable means I must look at past mistakes, or even past tragedies, and see where my part was in its occurrence. Where am I partially to blame? And what can I learn from these experiences? Did I place myself in a dangerous situation? Did I risk my health by making bad choices? Did I hold grudges and react? Accountability is powerful. It is a must in order to manifest any New Year’s resolutions, goals or intentions.

 

It can be hard to do. I suggest tackling an accountability list armed with self-compassion, an open heart and the willingness to let go and forgive. But just ‘letting go’ of the past isn’t enough if I haven’t learned the lessons. For instance, if I want to knock out a publishing editor who asked to read one of my novels, it isn’t enough to scan the manuscript once and send it on, like I did with a previous novel that didn’t get accepted. I must get it beta read again. I must add the authentic details that a respected agent suggested. I must take my time and sit at my desk and write every day. I must choke back fear and insecurities by meditating every day, so that I don’t succumb to distractions that get in the way of working productively.

 

To me, being accountable has a lot to do with how well I take care of myself. Ask yourself this: are you in your own way? Do you sabotage achieving your goals due to bad habits? Then be accountable for those bad habits. Look in the mirror.

 

For instance, if I eat too many sugary foods, drink too much caffeine and forget to do pranayama (deep breathing) and meditate, I enter a space of fear, erratic thinking and succumb to distractions that keep me from editing or writing.

 

What is keeping you from your best self? Experts now have conclusive evidence that meditation quiets fear and reactive thinking and allows us to link neural pathways to the parts of the brain that are more compassionate, calm, responsive, verses living within our over-active reactive non-stop thinking side of our brain. (I’m para-phrasing here, but go read This is Your Brain On Meditation in Psychology Today, if you are interested!) We also know that too much sugar and caffeine wires the brain’s fight or flight response, which is not grounded in reality, and creates a vibration of negativity. This vibration may actually bring into your life more people or experiences who mirror that. Plus, if you drink too much alcohol, don’t exercise, don’t meditate and eat too many carby, fatty foods, you can become more prone to depression. If depression runs in your family, like it does in mine, do EVERYTHING you can to thwart its dark return into your life. (This Harvard Gazette article about meditation reducing depression is eye-opening.)

 

Just food for thought. This new years, I refuse to set resolutions. Instead, each day I get  to hold myself accountable in a compassionate way. If I didn’t write or edit, why not? If I didn’t meditate or do a 20 minute yoga flow at home, why not? If I became reactionary or fearful or thought negative thoughts, what was going on within my diet or my life to create that imbalance? If I didn’t listen well to my boys or friends, why?

 

What I know for sure, is that what I focus on expands. And if I want more love, joy, kindness, forgiveness, compassion, abundance—I need to help others by being more loving, joyful, grateful, compassionate, forgiving and supportive of their efforts to become abundant. It can be as simple as smiling at someone or sending them a silent blessing. If I want to live within a more beautiful world, I need to create beauty in my life by noticing, appreciating and enjoying what I already have that is beautiful. If I can be grateful every day, even for the hard lessons, my life is already abundant. If I am living my dharma—enjoying what I do for a living—I have accomplished more than I could possibly imagine. From this vibration, anything else is possible.

 

Today, I am mindful of where I slipped into fear and out of my routine this holiday season. I am grateful for the lessons. I am grateful for my breath, my yoga, my beautiful characters and stories I write about, and the fact that each day I get a choice on what I focus on. This is a blessing. No matter what else is happening in my life. My happiness is a choice. It doesn’t depend on whether someone shows up, or a goal is accomplished. It is a choice of learning in each moment and being grateful. I’m learning in my journey to be humbled by my mistakes and grateful for the lessons and that I am a compassionate, forgiving friend to myself and others. The light within me, is within you. We must all cultivate the best vibration, by being accountable for our habits—what we eat, what we think, what we drink, what we focus on—so that we can shift away from what doesn’t serve, to what helps us feel our own light, and see it in each other.

Have a Beautiful New Years week.

With so much love & light,

Laura

Pushing Our Kids = Sport Injuries

pitcher

This week I’m finishing up an article for a Los Angeles healthcare magazine about youth sport injuries. When I first started this article, I had no idea that it would haunt me as much as the articles I wrote earlier this year on stressed out kids and childhood diabetes. There seems to be an invisible link fueling these three varying topics and intuitively it has to be our American culture. We are a society stewing in a pressure cooker of stress: too many obligations, long work hours, financial strain and the need to succeed. Of course our children feel this pressure cooker environment every bit as much as we do—perhaps more so. And they are navigating through it as best they can.

Since it’s no longer safe for kids to ride bikes freely or play in their hood like we did as children, there’s no wonder that organized sport has taken off. But when more than 35 million kids under 14 years of age are undergoing surgery or other medical treatments for sport injuries—we need to take a step back. (BTW, that statistic is from a 14-year-old study—so likely the number is even higher.)

This week I listened to two well-known orthopedic surgeons in Los Angeles explain to me the type of injuries they treat in patients as young as 8. Can you imagine ACL surgery at 8? But think about it, some children start group sports or club sports as early as 5 or 6. I learned an interesting tidbit from one physician who works with elite athletes…that baseball scouts aren’t as interested in signing pitchers from California anymore. Want to know why? Because Californians are known to work out longer and harder year-round. Our athletic culture, mixed with coaches and parents who like to take advantage of the year-round nice weather, creates exhausted and injured teenagers.

When a pitcher doesn’t get a break to rest—especially those who have been playing since elementary school—they will likely have sustained some serious injuries by the time they are 18. Even professional athletes take a few months off each season. Our children with growing bones and muscles—who may or may not have entered puberty—need time off to rest.  (And kiddos who start throwing curve balls early, or who just pitch too often, find themselves injured in middle school. See This New York Times article on the topic.)

As I mentioned, part of the problem is that young children are still growing and they all differ on timing of puberty. One child’s physique at 14 may be much different than another’s. Obviously, that means that not all kids under 14 can be expected to do 100 push ups at a practice—or whatever benchmarks certain coaches have. Physicians emphasize, however, that it’s not varying from routine in sports that can create ACL injury and even alter bone growth in children’s hips. It’s just not safe on ligaments and muscles and bones when repetitive motions are done year-round.

So the kid that focusses on one sport early on and joins a club team that doesn’t allow for proper breaks year-round, will likely sustain “overuse” injuries. This kid who loves the game, and whose parents may have fostered hopes for scholarships, might actually not be as competitive in high school as the child who only played six months a year, took breaks, and enjoyed a variety of sports.

It makes sense. Physicians whose studies show pediatric overuse injuries rising, have helped organized sport organizations create limits: such as a baseball pitching limit per season.

According to a New York Times article on the topic, Little League has established pitch count limits per game and recommended days of rest for pitchers ages 9 to 18. The United States Cycling Federation has imposed gear-ratio limits for riders ages 10 to 16. U.S.A. Swimming recommends the number and length of weekly sessions for various ages of competitive swimmers.

Youth soccer fields are now smaller and baseball bases put closer together for youth games.

While these are advancements—they don’t really change the culture do they? Look at the picture I posted with this story. It’s of a very small child, trying to throw a curve ball. It was posted on Flickr by his parent bragging about the kid’s moxie. I found hundreds of pics of little kids throwing curve balls with posts underneath them from grandparents or parents all saying things like: “That’s my boy!”

Dancers and gymnasts put in grueling hours and sometimes starve themselves to meet their coaches favor. We all know stories about kids who work hard to become Olympic hopefuls or college athletes. It’s encouraged by parents. And while I’m a huge proponent of getting kids in team sports and off the couch—pushing to the extreme is not a good option. Early injuries lead to earlier bouts of arthritis. Shouldn’t we just get back to the basics and have fun? Don’t we want to foster a lifestyle that embraces a lifetime of athleticism and healthy choices? And is it just me, but wouldn’t it be nice to bring back family dinner for at least two weeknight evenings instead of racing from practices to games and ordering in fast food? Seriously, how well are we really teaching our children to take care of their bodies?

Stressed Out Kids: Who’s to Blame?

For this 100th blog post, I’ve decided to write about a topic that is killing us.

Literally.

I can’t think of a more important issue for the health of our children and our families than stress. Think your kid isn’t stressed? Think again. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 91 percent of children in the United States report feeling stressed—even though many of their parents reported those same kids were not anxious. It really shouldn’t be that surprising to us parents—as stress permeates every facet, age-group and demographic of our over-stretched, frenetic American lifestyle. Of course it has to affect our children too.

As I’ve reported for multiple magazines and news outlets, stress is a killer. Well, not stress exactly—but how we deal with it. When there are chronic excess levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in our bloodstream, we put ourselves at risk for heart attack, stroke, diabetes and multiple autoimmune disorders. Pregnant women, especially, need to watch stress levels as cortisol crosses the blood-stream barrier and is linked to potential attention deficit disorder and memory impairment later in life—as well as being a precursor to pre-term birth. (See my FitPregnancy magazine article Beat the Four Biggest Pregnancy Stressors ).

We are just starting to uncover the truth about how stressed our children really are and what this means for their futures and their health. The APA’s latest Stress in America survey  shows that while a majority of parents didn’t think their children were feeling stress, 91 percent of children interviewed reported they were. And what do you think caused children, ages 8 – 17, the most anxiety? Watching their parents. This information from the survey really struck a cord:

“Nearly three-quarters (69 percent) of parents say that their stress has only a slight or no impact on their children, yet 91 percent of children report they know their parent is stressed because they observe a multitude of behaviors, such as yelling, arguing and complaining.”

Think about it, our young children watch us, worry, and later mimic us. In the meantime, their stress-filled bodies often become over-weight. Another article I’m writing this month for a health care magazine shows that Type-2 diabetes rates among children are rising at a staggering pace—even in fitness-oriented cities such as Los Angeles. The typical reasoning is our changing American lifestyle that hampers children from riding their bikes freely or walking to school. One diabetic physician in Los Angeles told me that children are staying home alone and playing video games more and more—then eating fast food for dinner. But that’s for another story…

Stress has other potential side-effects for our kids. For instance, one recent study linked extreme stress (such as children living with a chronically ill parent or sibling, or those who have experienced or witnessed violence crimes) with poor school performance, exacerbated health issues and a likelihood to abuse drugs and alcohol. And a University of Wisconsin-Madison study concluded that intense and lasting stress actually alters children’s brain functioning: reducing short-term memory and cognitive abilities.

Helping Our Children Starts at Home

Clearly, it’s critical that we help our children lower their stress levels. But how can we expect our kids to manage their stress well—if we, as parents, aren’t doing a good job ourselves? It’s a bit hypercritical and impractical as the bad reactions and habits we have actually triggers their anxiety!

We are our children’s teachers. They watch our every move. If we are snapping at them and rushing in all directions at a scattered pace to get to work, school and a myriad of activities—how can we expect them to roll with the punches? How can we expect them to be relaxed, if we aren’t? Yesterday I overheard a mom at the grocery store yell at her whining toddler: “STOP it or I’ll pop you in the mouth!”

Clearly, that didn’t work—or make her more relaxed. But who hasn’t felt that way? (Obviously, I’ve had my moments too! See this post.) Who hasn’t been triggered by over-load from work and life demands that suddenly leave you breathless and reacting instantly instead of calmly and patiently?

I know I can be guilty of this. If I don’t slow down or limit the number of obligations I have on my plate, I’m less mindful.

Think of what other habits you may be forming that aren’t the best for you or your kiddos. Do you often complain about work demands or money? Do you find yourself racing around, not listening, and then ordering pizza, putting a kids show on the tube and pouring yourself a glass of vino to veg out? Do you and the hubby argue in front of the kids?

They’re watching, or listening, even if you think they aren’t. I’m not trying to lay on the guilt…like we all need one more thing to feel bad about! But, I’ve come to the conclusion that if I expect my children to make healthier choices—I have to as well. It starts at home. It starts with me.

I recently wrote an article about kids and stress for Pulse, a Los Angeles-based healthcare magazine for Torrance Memorial Medical Center. (Soon to be published.) I reported about an elementary school principal in Palos Verdes, Calif. who hired a stress-reduction and mindfulness expert to come into her school last year to teach young children techniques to lower their stress levels. The health expert, who has a Master’s Degree in clinical holistic health education, showed the children relaxation techniques, including how to “find a safe place” through guided imagery and meditation.

This program was introduced before the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, and surprisingly, even in the wealthy enclave of Palos Verdes—many children reported feeling stressed and anxious on a weekly basis. Most anxiety was reported as stemming from wanting to fit in or pressure to excel (yes, even in elementary school!) and worrying about their parents. So you see, even if you think your children aren’t feeling the strain that other kids are, you’re likely wrong.

Wouldn’t it be great if more schools in America introduced yoga, meditation and other mindfulness workshops to their children? In a time with multiple school budget cuts, it’s not likely. And, to be more on topic, unless parents attend these workshops with their children—I wonder if stress levels would lower very much within the family dynamic?

I know in this family, it’s time for mom to make a concerted and consistent effort to lower anxiety levels for my boys.  And that starts, well, with me.

If Mindfulness Transforms CEOs … Imagine How It Can Help You?

Photo by: Administrador Galeria Uninter

Photo by: Administrador Galeria Uninter

Mindfulness expert and former General Mills executive, Janice Marturano, helps CEOs and corporate executives across America manifest their dreams and better manage their stress, their personal lives and business communications through mindfulness meditation. So, it’s no wonder that I reached out to the founder and executive director of The Institute for Mindful Leadership for advice. We all know that single parents juggle more than most. Those of us who are working full-time, as well as juggling the lion share of parenting needs, can feel drained, frazzled and out -of-control. Ironically, Marturano, who spoke with me today via a phone interview, explained that finding “moments to pause,” which teaches us how to be present, is the to key to bettering all our relationships: whether those are with co-workers or our children. Her work with Fortune 500 executives is garnering much word-of-mouth recognition, and just last week, Arianna Huffington personally invited Janice to write for HuffPost. (Read her first HuffPost column here.)

I’m thrilled to include this Q&A with Janice, who not only changed my brother’s life, but is helping to demystify mindfulness meditation and bring it to the masses:

NV: Mindfulness meditation is certainly getting a lot of media coverage these days. You’ve been an expert in the field for over a decade. What do you think about all the articles that are out there now?

JM: Quite frankly, a lot of what’s out there is just garbage. So many people say that it’s [mindfulness meditation] about feeling your breath or doing deep breathing. And that’s just not it.

NV:  I hear that all the time too. So, if it’s not about breath, what is it?

JM: It’s just not that simple. The real power and richness [of mindfulness meditation] is that it’s a journey. … Take 10 minutes every day and just feel your breath. Don’t try to do deep breathing, just feel your breath. When the monkey mind chatter begins, and the mind takes a hike to your to-do list or an upcoming meeting, just gently re-direct it back to your breath without judgement.

NV: Well, I’ve been doing this for a few months now and I’m still trying to figure out exactly how this will help me.

JM: It’s in the re-direction of your wandering thoughts back to your breath that starts the capacity to get us present—with our kids and our work colleagues. You’re going to be able to find what I call “the purposeful pause.”

NV: Ok, so this teaches me to later stop letting my mind wander, or check texts, or think about the next article I need to write, while I’m chatting with my children?

JM: Exactly. You learn to be present, and they notice. Just like colleagues or employees notice when they are truly being heard.

NV: That’s powerful. I’m sure so many of your clients from Fortune 500 companies may feel like they just don’t have time to sit and meditate. I know some single moms who feel like that too! What do you say to that?

JM: Fifteen years ago I was one of the only women to become an officer in my company (General Mills, Inc.) ever. I wasn’t a single mom, but I was certainly a working mom and understood the stress of juggling and the demands of keeping all the balls in the air. Who has time to meditate? … When I went on my first retreat [with General Mills] Jon Kabat-Zinn was my first teacher! (Insert laugh here). Jon created mindfulness stress reduction techniques! Anyway, on our first day he says, “we’re going to be practicing for an hour.” I about died! Now, I wish it could be for longer. But for most of us, finding 10 minutes a day, or even 5 minutes twice a day, is a great start. And, for those really busy executives, I tell them to find time while they do other things. You can meditate when you brush your teeth or when you’re in the shower.

NV: Okay, you’re going to have to explain how I can meditate while I brush my teeth. I always imagined that I need to sit on a cushion with my legs crossed and my hands facing upwards.

JM: I teach all levels. If someone thinks they are too busy, I suggest they find ways to make something, like brushing their teeth, a meditative experience. So, you focus your full attention to feeling the brush, tasting the toothpaste, listening to the sounds around you and you keep re-directing your thoughts back to the present moment when they wander.

NV: So you can do this anytime. I try to find 5 minutes in the shower in the morning, when my kiddos can’t reach me.

JM: Sure, the shower is a great place. I started saving money on conditioner costs by meditating in the shower! [Before utilizing mindfulness techniques] I used to have my whole 10 a.m. meeting in the shower with me! And as I was lost in my thoughts, I would forget that I already conditioned my hair and would condition it twice! Now, I clearly don’t do that.

NV: I imagine that this little example sort of crystalizes how being mindfulness, or finding moments to pause can help us in all areas of our life.

JM: Yes, exactly.

NV: Thanks SO much for your time! I’d love for my readers to also check out your article A Mindful Calendar—as executives and stay-at-home moms a like—can benefit from this organizational article. Thanks again for your time and your valuable contribution to our world.

A related story of interest: The Power of NOT Holding It All (Together)

Avoiding Narcissists: Top NV Post

I launched Navigating Vita a little more than a year ago and, like with any anniversary, I’ve been looking back on this time in my life. In my effort to learn what resonates with my readers, I’ve also taken note of which posts are read more than others. If the most popular blog posts are any indicator—finding love and having a good laugh top your list. (And they top mine, too!) So it is with little surprise that one of my first written posts: How NOT to Date a Narcissist remains the all-time favorite: the most searched, read and commented on NV blog post.

Bloggers, by nature, delve into the world of self reflection. And we all can be a bit self absorbed at times, right? But someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)  has a condition that Webster defines as “having an inability to show empathy.” The Mayo Clinic site defines those with NPD as believing “that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings.” Their sense of entitlement can manifest into a myriad of behaviors that can be abusive both emotionally and/or physically.

If you’ve ever been in a relationship with a destructive narcissist and are back out in the dating world—than I don’t need to tell you that your *top* priority is to avoid falling for another one at all costs. The charming and chameleon qualities of narcissists easily fool people for months—sometimes longer. Wouldn’t it be easier to to end the relationship before you get sucked in and spit out? With that in mind, I sought help from an expert who could point out telltale signs many narcissists exhibit, even in the beginning phase of dating. Debra Cucci, MFT has become somewhat of an expert on this topic as she consults families and runs a workshop in Los Angeles to help women make better choices when dating. Her advice is eye-opening! Finally, there is a concrete list of characteristics that many charming narcissists share—warning signs to take note of during the first few dates. As we all know, Narcissists aren’t gender specific! This article will help anyone avoid falling for this destructive personality who could likely wreck havoc in your life and those of your children.

And after that heavy subject, I’m happy to report that my 2nd most popular post is light as air: 25 Reasons to LOVE Being a Single Mom. I LOVE this silly tongue-in-cheek article that is a compilation of input from *many* single moms out there. Sometimes life is just too hard. The weight of all that is dragging you down can just be exhausting and talking about it doesn’t always make things feel better, does it? In my effort to find how to fill my glass half-full, I started this list and reached out to more than 25 other single moms to see what they’re thankful for. Making this list not only filled my glass half-way—it over-flowed! Laughter truly is the best medicine. Here’s a post guaranteed to cheer you up, put a new spin on your situation—or at least give you a much-needed laugh!

Chiming in at # 3: is Relationship Guru Dr. Pat Allen Sets Me Straight! Also another early blog post. I reached out to Pat Allen, Ph.D., world-renown relationship therapist; best selling author (Getting to I Do) and the resident sex expert on TV’s  Millionaire Matchmaker. Since I was gingerly venturing out into the dating world, after a heartbreak, I thought, who better to help me (and other separated and divorced women) but the top expert herself! She provides simple advice to find Mister Right—and if you’re anything like me, you may just be surprised by how many wrong steps were taken in your search!

For those interested in NV’s top 10 stories, I’ve enclosed a quick run down below. What surprised me the most, when looking at this list, is that the majority of top posts include interviews with experts. I’m gratified that my network as a journalist has helped me reach out and garner interviews with those amazingly talented experts who can really help us in our efforts to find Mr. Right; show our kids love and compassion;  become better parents; examine infidelity; breathe through our anger; show compassion to others who are struggling; and find laughter in the every day. Thanks for reading and being on this journey with me.

Navigating Vita’s Top Ten Posts of All Time:

1. How NOT To Date a Narcissist

2. 25 Reasons to LOVE Being a Single Mom

3. Relationship Guru Dr. Pat Allen Sets Me Straight!

4. Connect With Your Children While They Sleep

5. Top 5 Mistakes Divorcing Parents Make

6. Is Cheating The Only “Rational Choice” for Married Men?

7.Newt Gingrich in Tuscany!

8. The Power of NOT Holding It All (together)

9. An Italian Mom’s Fight To Save Her Daughter

10. Domestic Violence During Divorce: Not a Rarity

Navigating Autism

Last month I wrote the cover article for Pulse Magazine. It was more than just a look into autism and its causes and behavioral checklists for families—the type of articles I have written for parenting publications in the past. No, this article was an in-depth exploration into how families cope with the disorder and what resources are available to them. I was moved when talking with families who have tried multiple therapies and who have stayed together while sacrificing so much of their lives and personal time and careers to fight for the wellbeing of their children. While this magazine article is tailored for Southern California readers— the stories of the many families I interviewed will inspire you by their sheer determination and positive energy that seems boundless.

And boundless, positive energy is critical today after the American Psychiatric Association has endeavored to “redefine autism,” potentially limiting the numbers of families who will now qualify for assisted therapies. (See this New York Times article to read more on this unfolding development.) Even when facing an uncertain future in terms of assisted therapy and programs—each family I spoke with were determined to find alternative ways to help their children. If you’ve ever thought that one person couldn’t make a difference, I dare you to continue to think that way after hearing Sam Felsenfeld’s story. In honor of his son Jack, Sam ran a marathon each week in 2010—61 marathons and two ultra-marathons—to raise money for autism research and public awareness. He has raised more than $150,000 for Train4Autism and the 39-year-old father of three is still running. (You can read about his daily endeavors on his blog OperationJack.)

Risks:

This morning I was inspired to write and promote my article on autism after watching a CNN brief about how a study determined that the age of sperm carries risk factors for delivering a child with autism. (Read this New York Times article to read more about how the age of the father carries potential risks for autism and Schizophrenia.) It’s certainly compelling. For many years the state of California has been deemed the state with the most autism cases in America. (Surprisingly, Utah just jumped ahead this year…) In fact, the number of children with autism has tripled in California since 2002. I recall attending a panel for Fit Pregnancy magazine (where I freelance often) and a doctor suggested that both environmental and genetic factors were to blame for the disorder’s rise. No one knows for sure, but determining that the age of sperm carries risk factors, is an important step—especially in the age of older parents and the popularity of fertility treatments. A Scientific American study revealed clusters of autism in California’s city centers (twice the national rate), which lends me to believe that there may be some validity in a link between the age of parents and autism risks. (As most people know, older, new parents can be found in larger cities where many delay having children until after pursing careers or higher educational goals.)

What do you think? Perhaps there is NO one risk. Perhaps it’s a whirlwind of factors that, when crashed together, puts your child at high risk. Perhaps it’s part genetic, part environmental and part age of sperm and/or egg. Why some children are on one end of the spectrum and fight just to attain speech—while others are born with less severe symptoms and race forward in therapy and are able to attend college and become independent—is baffling to experts. There is no one autistic child or one autistic experience. If you have a child with any level of this disorder—I’m sure you’re only concern is that of helping your child thrive and attend school and later to navigate social cues and be able to find a job and become independent as an adult. It can seem overwhelming to the outsider, but if it’s your child—it’s your passion and your life. I get it. Here’s hoping Obama’s healthcare endeavors will get more children—regardless of where they fall in the new and developing definition of the disorder—approved for assisted occupational therapies.

And finally, here’s hoping that more of us without autistic children teach our kids to become more accepting of others. Because, at the end of the day, we all need to embrace the wonderful and sometimes whimsical children with this disorder—as often times, they have much to teach us.

Finding the Light Within

Whenever I begin to feel jealousy, anger, pity or fear creep in—the four pitfalls I imagine many single moms tripping over—I stop and take a breath. I let myself step aside (sort of like a Woody Allen moment with the protagonist asking the audience for insight) and ask why I am sinking to these depths. Intellectually I know it’s not helping. Going through the process of divorce is gut-wrenching enough. Adding insult to injury by sinking to such negative thoughts, only keeps us mentally in the basement. How someone else treats us isn’t always deserved, or in any way reasonable. But knowing this, and feeling this, are two different things entirely. I understand. For two years I’ve wrestled with insecurities that I never had before. Getting to the place where I feel beautiful, loving, and like I am a gift to my children, has been a long walk of faith.

I’d like to walk that with you. I’m still finding my own way, but want to walk with you—especially those who are just going through the storm—as you hold your breath and put one foot, (metaphorically) in front of the other.

I’m currently working with a spiritual counselor and feel so blessed by her insight. One of the exercises that has helped me the most is that of meditation and focus on love. Love requires no formal religion—so no matter your faith—this exercise will help you. Over time, it creates what is called a bleed-over. The more you visualize yourself as a seed of light and love and harmony, the sooner you realize that it’s true. And once you do—no one, or anyone’s behavior—can take that away from you.

If you’ve received a crushing blow to your ego and self esteem, as many women who are dealing with infidelity have shared with me, there comes a time when those insecurities will begin to lift. Sure, there will always be people who are younger, physically more beautiful, more intelligent or more athletic than you. But these qualities don’t ultimately define us. They aren’t the essence of who we are. They don’t create the “je ne sais quoi” that the French refer to—meaning the intangible, or inexplainable quality that makes someone distinctive or attractive or irresistible. I’ve always imagined that this comes from an inexplicable source of light within a person. Have you ever met someone who isn’t quite beautiful, but his or her smile or lightness in mood or sense of goodness blows you over until you begin to think of that person akin to an angel? If you haven’t experienced this, you may think I’m nuts. If you have, you know exactly what I mean. I don’t pretend to have any of the answers for us, but I do know that we are all equal in God’s eyes. We all have access to light and love. All I know is that the more I focus on that, the less I focus on anything dark. Hurtful things people say or do begin to fall to the wayside as I focus on being a light to myself, my children and those I love.

If you are motivated, try this exercise with me for a week and let me know if it is changing your perceptions, mood, relationships with your kids, your Ex, etc.

Each night as you drift off to sleep, breathe deeply and visualize divine light bubbling up from the core of your body. It begins to spread throughout your body: up through your chest, your arms, down your legs, and out your toes, fingers and head. Say to yourself, “I am filled with light.” Imagine sharing the light with your children and even extend some love and light to your Ex, your extended family and any friends that you want to reach. Hold no other thoughts other than letting those you care about, feel light and love. Hold no agendas. Breathe deeply. Feel warmth run through your body, and begin to think of at least five things you are thankful for. Even if you can only think of things such as food, your car making it to work, or running water, be thankful for those things. The list will grow over time.

Allow yourself to drift off to sleep after saying your thanks.  Do this every night for a week. Even if you are in pain. Even if you are distracted. Perhaps especially so.

Remember, no matter what someone has done to you, it doesn’t define you. It doesn’t diminish your “je ne sais quoi” —your light within.

For some of you reading this, my words may seem a bit cheesy or saccharine. Sure, I know some of you are struggling with child custody battles, health issues, child support default, etc. The issues are heartbreaking. Perhaps this little exercise seems useless. Perhaps you think it’s silly. Try to push self-depricating thoughts aside and entertain this idea for a week anyway. What do you have to lose? Over time, you may begin to really feel that you are a source of light and love. And once you do, I have a hunch that your contagious energy will carry you forward throughout all your struggles with much more ease, confidence and less stress. And lowering stress is essential. I’m currently writing an article for a national magazine about the effects of severe stress on women’s health. It’s not pretty. Our children deserve healthy and happy moms. Lets try to give them what they—and we—deserve.

Lots of love,

Laura

Waiting to Re-Emerge

Photo by Miroslav Petrasko

I’ve been under the weather, so has my oldest for weeks. Also slammed with deadlines and an inability to completely get through some fears that linger. (Two steps forward, one back.) I will start my project soon and continue with this blog, regardless of pressure to stop. In a way, I’m waiting to truly emerge again after events from the New Year. There is so little we can control in life, except the way we live. It reminds me of a Jackson Browne line: “Nothing Survives, but the Way We Live Our Lives.”

Anyway, this week I’m feeling down and a bit defeated by things out of my control. I’ll have to not let them hold me back permanently. The year started out so amazing, however. I spent New Years week on a cruise watching a man emerge into grace. (Emerge seems to be my word for the evening, bare with me.) I watched him take care of his father who took a dramatic turn for the worse. With humor and compassion, he took such amazing around-the-clock care of his father without one word of complaint. I don’t know if I could be as strong or as graceful in the same circumstances. And, by the end of the cruise, his adorable father was much better. But even at his worst, the 80-year-old man had me laughing and wishing I could be so much fun to be around when I felt like crap. It was a reminder to me of what is important. I’ve had so many reminders in my life so far, that I wonder why I seem to keep needing them? And while I’ve been pondering so many of life’s lessons, I guess right now I’m focussed on one: sometimes, protecting those we love, or ourselves, takes a bit of courage. So, in a muddled hour tonight, as I wrestle with sinus headache, heartache, and so many thoughts, I ran across this old post from a fellow blogger:

“when I decided to give up what I thought was right for me and truly let go of the sadness in the past, did things come together for me. I have read many books about “letting go” of the things that have hurt us and focus on present circumstances-quite frankly I thought this was a bunch of made up feel good nonsense. But it was only when I stopped holding on and gave up feeling rotten, opened up my mind and heart, did things really start to happen for me”

I couldn’t agree with her more. (Read her post She Never Saw It Coming.)

My problem isn’t that of letting go of the past and moving forward—but just in the confidence necessary to keep moving forward regardless of where that leads. I’ll just add the caveat that focussing on present circumstances can only be helpful if those circumstances aren’t mired with toxic distractions so you can go where you need to go. Phew, too heavy, right? I’m taking a short time out, or a breather, to listen, watch, gain a bit of strength and re-emerge.

Good night all. I’ll be back in better form soon. x

Harnessing Fear in the New Year

“Normal fear protects us; abnormal fear paralyses us. Normal fear motivates us to improve our individual and collective welfare; abnormal fear constantly poisons and distorts our inner lives. Our problem is not to be rid of fear but, rather to harness and master it.” Martin Luther King Jr.


Happy New Year!! As you can likely tell, I’m slowly inching into this new year. I’m just getting to my first post and I’m excited to say that gifts are being mailed out to the NavigatingVita contest winners next week!!

This first month of 2012 has been filled with many surprises so far. Not all good, but I’m learning a lot about myself and others. I wanted to write this first post of the year about Fear and its power to paralyze and keep us from being present and living the lives we are meant to lead. It’s not a coincidence that so many women going through divorce vent via support groups or with friends about receiving threatening texts and phone calls from Exs over a myriad of issues with control at the heart of each. Being able to rise above the noise, determine whether or not it is a real threat, and then harness your fear, is a liberating endeavor. I, by no means, have any answers, but I think for most of our issues  we, intuitively are our best guides. Blocking out the noise of chatter; stopping our minds from obsessing on all the what ifs; and avoiding talk with friends who may plunge you further in fear; are all good ideas.

Sometimes it’s hard to know when fear is really merited, isn’t it? I’m currently dealing with a disturbing event. Although I can’t discuss it at the moment, I can discuss how I’m mentally dealing with the fear. I’ve found a spiritual counselor and with meditation I’m learning to listen to my inner voice. I’m avoiding chatting with too many people about it as their ‘advice’ could spiral me further into fear. And even though there are wrongs that my ego would like to right, I’m learning to let it go. Sometimes the best reaction to a volley, is to let the ball bounce off the court and to move on. It’s been two and a half years, I’m tired of volleying.

For the record, as I move into my next phase, I just want to reiterate that NavigatingVita is a place of inspiration for myself and other single or divorcing parents. My goal is to find ways for us to explore our daily struggles and the important issues of our lives—while striving to remain positive and to focus on moving forward in a loving way.

I know a lot of you who are going through divorce may have become paralyzed at one point or another by the fear that I’ve discussed. Focussing on all the fearful issues will only keep them in front of you and you’ll chase them like a dog chases his tail round and round. Plus, it plunges you into a victim role.

Because again, the more you focus on it, the worse it gets. The better focus is on ourselves. Of course, if you’re battling real issues with abuse or neglect, harness the fear and deal with it calmly with your attorney. But for the most of us, we need to take a time out, and focus on ourselves.

I hope you’re motivated to take that time out with me. This new year is going to be a great one for us all!

Lots of love,

Laura