Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Review – Nonviolent Communication

From my Goodreads Review

During a recent conversation with our younger son and his girlfriend, I mentioned a workshop about nonviolent communication, and immediately Katryna responded that it reminded her of the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, which she had on a bookshelf, having read portions of the book but not a cover-to-cover read. I then blurted “that is who trained the leader of the workshop!” As a result, I borrowed the book from the library. (I hadn’t taken the workshop, just expressed interest in it.)

I wrote four blog posts (1, 2, 3, 4) about the process of NVC, and in the first mentioned my tendency to avoid self-help books, of which this appeared to be one.

However, I ultimately found it a thoughtful process and one that will lurk in the back of my mind as the approach jells. My reason for reading the book was an interest in figuring out how to have potentially unpleasant conversations with people around the myriad topics that have been pervading our lives for the past four years. In other words, how to engage with people when we do not see eye-to-eye.

I don’t have any expectation of changing mindsets, but I would like to be able to discuss rather than listen without comment when someone expresses a belief with which I do not agree. It has often felt to me like my silence was seen as complicit agreement, when actually my silence was either trying to better comprehend why someone would feel the way they expressed, or else my wanting to avoid conflict. Either way, engaging the person in dialog using the principles of NVC would have met my need to find out why they felt the way they did in a way that would likely engender positive discussion rather than conflict.

One other aspect of NVC that particularly resonated comes from the final chapter, Expressing Appreciation in Nonviolent Communication. It has always been difficult for me to accept compliments; I often want to reflect them back on the speaker. To quote Rosenberg:

NVC encourages us to receive appreciation with the same quality of empathy we express when listening to other messages. We hear what we have done that has contributed to others’ well-being; we hear their feelings and the needs that were fulfilled. We take into our hearts the joyous reality that we can each enhance the quality of others’ lives.

The Joy of Movement

This blog post is both a book title, The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage, and an apt reflection of how I feel about moving. The more I move, the happier I am. A day without ample movement is a day where my body and mind feel less than content, less focused, and less agile.

Author Kelly McGonigal has detailed numerous stories about people who have undertaken either extreme physical challenges or undertook movement to heal their bodies (or both!) Along the way, she inserts  glimpses of the neuroscience behind human body movement.

This morning I posted my review of her book to Goodreads, and am including here some of my review, along with additions.

I found portions of the book that resonated, the first dealing with music.
When listening to music, we listen with our muscles. -Oliver Sacks (pg 98)

I have taken three Dance for Parkinson’s trainings, and was heartened to see McGonigal include this approach to movement, the premise of which is that music coupled with dance training is beneficial for people living with Parkinson’s. In addition, I have written a bit about the impact of music on the brain and movement, including Music as Therapy: Music, Movement, Cognition! on the SharpBrains blog

This next quote is applicable across so much of life, not just movement. These are words of encouragement coupled with a firm belief to not give up.

If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. But by all means, keep moving. -Martin Luther King Jr (pg 107)

As a lover of human anatomy and a teacher of yoga who occasionally suggests turning the corners of the mouth up towards the eyes, I especially appreciated learning the name of the muscle responsible for this movement: zygomaticus major. This muscle “contracts reflexively, similar to when a physician taps your kneecap to make your leg swing.” Our external movements, from facial expressions to body position, let us “talk” to the world.

The body is how we translate what is happening inside us–thoughts, feelings, desires–into something observable that other people can understand. (pg 116)

Finally, one more vocabulary word that speaks to yoga as well as movement in general: proprioceive. I have long known that proprioception is an individual’s sense of where their body is in space; this is something we consciously or unconsciously consider whenever we move. McGonigal discusses how empathy while watching someone else move causes us to proprioceive it.

When you watch others move, you don’t just perceive this action. You proprioceive it. You receive it into yourself. This is what empathy does: It creates, in your mind, a felt sense of what you are observing. (pg 149)

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

I recently completed the reading of this almost 500 page book. Reading about cancer might not be your idea of a “good read” but Siddhartha Mukherjee is a natural story teller and a doctor, and he tells the story of cancer with depth, discernment and loving kindness. (My Goodreads review of the book is here.)

I was intrigued by the discoveries of what cancer is, particularly that its possibility exists within each and every one of us. I don’t want to forget the explanation of how cancer gets turned on, hence this post.

As best I understand the explanation of genetics, each human cell contains two prominent genes – oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. Oncogenes help cells grow and replicate; tumor suppressor genes inhibit cell growth. Mukherjee likens these two types of genes to putting your foot on a gas pedal (cell growth) and putting your foot on the brake (tumor suppressor genes.) When both types of genes are properly doing their job, all is well.

It is when a mutation occurs to a gene that the balance is thrown out of whack. Imagine a mutated oncogene, the gene that helps cells to grow; it would be as if the gas pedal was stuck in the down position, allowing cells to replicate with abandon. Imagine a mutated tumor suppressor gene, the gene that inhibits cell growth; it would be as if the brake was unable to be depressed, thus removing the function in the gene that stops the replicating of genes. As Mukherjee further describes the history of the discovery of how cancer comes to life he discusses specific proteins.

Genes encode proteins, and proteins often work like minuscule molecular switches, activating yet other proteins and inactivating others, turning molecular switches “on” and “off” inside a cell. … Proto-Oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes, cancer biologists discovered, sit at the hub of such signaling pathways.

Cancer, in short, was not merely genetic in its origin; it was genetic in its entirety. Abnormal genes governed all aspects of cancer’s behavior. Cascades of aberrant signals, originating in mutant genes, fanned out within the cancer cell, promoting survival, accelerating growth, enabling mobility, recruiting blood vessels, enhancing nourishment, drawing oxygen–sustaining cancer’s life.

These gene cascades, notably, were perversions of signaling pathways used by the body under normal circumstances. … Down to their innate molecular core, cancer cells are hyperactive, survival-endowed, scrappy, fecund, inventive copies of ourselves. (p 387-88)

In case you are wondering why my interest in what cancer is, I do not have a morbid curiosity. Rather, in 1998 I was diagnosed (thanks to mammography) with Stage 1 breast cancer, and treated via lumpectomy, radiation and tamoxifen. Among other things, this has made me a big proponent of mammograms and a huge fan of proactive, preventive care. I had my annual gynecological visit just a week prior to getting the mammogram, and a physical breast exam did not uncover any malady, precisely because the tumor was incredibly small. While cancer can be slow growing, it can also be fast growing, and my next mammogram would not have been for another year.

I conclude with a final quote from the last page of the book.

…to keep pace with this malady, you needed to keep inventing and reinventing, learning and unlearning strategies. (p 470)

While some cancers can be prevented (remove carcinogens in the environment such as asbestos and cigarettes), and others can be mitigated via treatment (surgery, transplants, medications), there are still others that are elusive and obstinate. Coupling the therapeutics of caring for someone with cancer, with all the myriad and sometimes debilitating approaches, and the study of cancer is insured a future history. Perhaps technology will help pave the way for deeper understanding of how our very human selves function, in turn leading to more humane approaches to care and treatment.

Book Review – Keep It Moving: Lessons for the Rest of Your Life

From my Goodreads Review

Having read Tharp’s The Creative Habit and The Collaborative Habit, I was eager to learn what more she had to say about life, creating and moving. At first, to my surprise, I found it difficult to get into the flow of Tharp’s writing this time round. However, as she often advises throughout her books, I kept going and, perhaps as with many a difficult activity, the more I read, the easier it became to relax into the flow.

Not surprising is that four of the five pages I bookmarked were all about movements to try. I need to move. Not just walk, because that is a daily necessity if I have any hope of leaving my comfy bed and doing anything! I am talking about truly moving by doing yoga, dancing, jumping, swirling, twirling, walking quickly, jogging short distances, bouncing up stairs, playing with my body in space as it relocates from one position of groundedness to another.

I prefer moving to standing, standing to sitting, and sitting only when tuckered out. If I must stand in place then I prefer moving in place to standing still. My psyche – body – blood – brain – the whole shebang is infinitely more content during and after intentional movement.

Taking cues from the movement maven Twyla, here are the movements I bookmarked.

Jump for Joy
Sky Jump – Stand with both feet together. Bend your knees. Jump straight up. Reach to the heavens with your arms. Repeat many time–at least three.

Ski Jump – Feet together, jump out to the right; arms go high to your left. Then jump back to center. Reverse. Repeat. Many times–at least four.

March in Place – Feet slightly apart, weight on your right, lift your left knee high. Then jump onto your left foot and bring your right knee high and slap that knee with the opposite hand. And reverse. Repeat many times. Try six.

Traveling – First to the front, weight on your right foot, jump forward to the left foot. From there back to the right foot. Then place both feet together. Reverse. Go for four each leg.
Same pattern, only now jump to the side, right and left. And then to the back. Repeat many times. Try eight. Note, as ever: the body prefers moving forward to going backward.

Then she adds a new component: MUSIC! I love, Love, LOVE moving to music! Especially when one of my favorites comes on or it is the ringtone I have for my husband or either of my sons. Look out floor, my feet automatically stat moving; it is not a choice! Tharp listed some samples of what she calls “irresistible can-do music.” I now have some of them on my iPhone and yup, she was correct, my feet found each one irresistible and they simply had to move. Her suggestions: “Boogaboo” by Jelly Roll Morton, “Stompin’ at the Savory” by Louis Armstrong, “Flying Home” by Lionel Hampton, and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy from his Ninth Symphony.

Of course, the more you move, the more you will build stamina, and that is the goal of the Build Your Stamina activity. To do this she suggests finding a physical activity that your body knows as a unit of time (heart beats, stair climbing…), then begin moving slowly and work up to multiple repetitions, breathing in on the preparation and breathing out on the work. “Enlarge your numbers daily. That is how we build stamina.”

As with The Collaborative Habit, there are occasional activities that are just pure fun, could make for entertaining ice breakers, and are useful tools for teaching public speaking or understanding language. I enjoyed the lure of dancing your verb – choosing a verb and finding the many varied ways of illustrating it through dance and movement. I smiled at the idea of “big” expressive language via body movements. “During the day when you have something to say–anything–you wish to say, stand up and illustrate it with a movement–any movement–of your choice. Jut a hip out to the right, pull up the left knee and slap it with the right hand. Give physical emphasis to all the points you need to make.” Indeed, this is an excellent tool to use anytime you want to make a point for your audience to remember.

Lastly, it is the rare individual who does not sustain one type of injury or another during their lifetime. Particularly as Tharp has spent most of her life dancing, its surprising that by age 78 she has sustained a relatively small number of injuries. This does make me think that the more fit we are, the more we nourish and nurture our movable bodies, the fewer injuries we may have and the easier it will be to recalibrate and heal. She borrows from the Japanese to liken the process of healing to that of kintsugi, patching a damaged vessel with gold. As she says, “The patched porcelain knows how to handle vicissitudes.”

Book Review – The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

From my GoodReads Review

I probably read this book too quickly, eagerly gobbling up Twyla Tharp’s anecdotes, sharing of her experiences, and passing along of her words of wisdom. The Collaborative Habit, her second book published six years after this one, is on my side table waiting to be read, and her most recent book, Keep It Moving: Lessons for the Rest of Your Life, is on reserve at our local library. Obviously, I am hooked.

I discovered Tharp’s writings late in my career, as this is my final year in the realm of independent school teaching. On the other hand, I have seen my interests and passions morph over the years from technology to movement. I put together sequences for sharing as yoga practices, I think about music to accompany those practices. Sometimes I have more energy to put in to the process, sometimes I go with my gut, but always being on my yoga mat is a form of creativity, be it for my personal practice or to guide others in their practice.

While I may be phasing out of the independent school world, I am continuing to teach, only instead of teaching children in a classroom, computer lab or MakerSpace, I am teaching adults in an open space. Either way, my preference is always to introduce the learner (or practitioner) to the world of possibilities, to pave the way for safe exploration of their interests and ideas, or in the case of yoga, their breath and body movement.

Each chapter in this book resonated, and if it didn’t happen on the first reading, a second reading might lead me to an experience in my own trajectory. (In retrospect, I did not always stop to sufficiently ponder and reflect.) Regardless of what field someone is in, including parenting, there is wisdom to take from Tharp’s ideas.

Tharp concludes each chapter with a set of exercises – not necessarily physical, though some are physical, but activities that may assist in forming, understanding and nurturing one’s own creative habit. The chapter titles might speak for themselves, or perhaps you will have no idea what they are about and that will inspire you to read this book! For me, I hope they will remind me of the meat of the chapter, and if not then I will borrow the book from the library to help me refuel my understanding,

1 – I Walk into a White Room
2 – Rituals of Preparation
3 – Your Creative DNA
4 – Harness Your Memory
5 – Before You Can Think out of the Box, You Have to Start with a Box
6 – Scratching
7 – Accidents Will Happen
8 – Spine
9 – Skill
10 – Ruts and Groves
11 – An “A” in Failure
12 – The Long Run

Book Review – Blink

Yesterday I finished reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. This post, with a minor change, is from my Goodreads review.


When this book first came out I had the sense that it was a popular psychology type of book – one that utilized contrived studies to try and explain human behavior. I have always raised an eyebrow at such studies because I think human behavior is more complex and “in the moment.” Thus, manufacturing a “false” set of circumstances to test for a specific behavior seems destined to provide a false set of results that do not hold up in “real” life.

If that is the case, why did I read this book almost 15 years after its first publication?

This summer I was a student of Experiential Anatomy in an anatomy class offered by three amazing teachers – Lizzie Lasater, Mary Richards, and Judith Hanson Lasater. Not only did I enjoy their interactions and teaching styles immensely, my understanding of human anatomy and how it plays out during yoga increased manifold and led me to do a bit of research on the teachers. That research led me to Judith Hanson Laster’s December workshop at Kripalu: Relax and Renew, Learning to Teach Restorative Yoga.

It is the syllabus for the training that caused me to read Blink, it being required reading for the workshop. (I am not taking the workshop, but as a restorative yoga teacher am eager to soak up as much guidance from Judith as possible.) Just a few pages into my reading of the book the connection that immediately came to mind was that during a restorative yoga session the yoga teacher often has to make snap calls about what might be going on in a student’s body. Do they look comfortable? What is the expression on their face saying? How are they holding their hands? Is there tension within that is manifesting on the exterior body?

I am nowhere near an expert at guiding restorative yoga or of reading the bodies of the people who practice yoga with me. However, I can appreciate that the skill to do so in the blink of an eye, particularly when it is a class rather than a private one-on-one practice, is a skill that is worth developing and will grow over time the more I practice it.

On further reflection, another message of Blink as it relates to leading yoga is that making snap judgements based on visual perception may likely lead to incorrect conclusions. Unless a person tells you what is going on in their body, there is no way for a novice (like me) to ascertain someone’s physical history – any medical or structural conditions that might be impacting their practice. My role as a yoga teacher is to get to know the people who practice with me, offer suggestions based on what I know and what I observe. That ability, for me, is an ongoing practice, just like yoga. 🙂

Book Review – The Body Keeps the Score

I just finished reading Bessel Van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score. This is a powerful, at times quite difficult body of work to read. Being confronted by stories of other people’s trauma was at times shocking and at times cringe-worthy. I had to focus my eyes to stay on the stories yet disassociate myself from the actions behind the words.

With that said, this is a work of major importance for anyone interested in beginning to understand what trauma is and how it impacts people. In January of this year I participated in a trauma-informed training with the idea of teaching yoga in prisons. What brought me to the training was my brief experience co-leading a yoga class at the Westchester Correctional Facility in Valhalla, New York where I felt woefully unprepared. However, the training did not begin to adequately address my questions. In search of more information, I was introduced to a woman who offered to meet with me and share experiences and information. As both a lawyer and a yoga teacher in prisons, she  highly recommended Van Der Kolk’s book, and her suggestion was spot on.

There is so much information that this first read felt more of an overview. However, the book is quite in-depth, providing an overview of how the human brain functions and processes trauma, exploring how children’s brains develop and are impacted by trauma, explaining traumatic memory, and concluding with descriptions of multiple different paths to recovery. I have no idea if I will ever reread the book, but if I were to pursue the field of teaching yoga to populations impacted by trauma then this book would be on my book shelf and wind up with sticky notes coming off numerous pages.

It took me awhile to read and it is one week overdue at my library! Each chapter deserved attention and time to process. I found myself jotting down a quote or comment here and there as something caught my interest, beginning with the idea that trauma is held in all the cells of the body. I began to better understand the meaning of interoception, which is to feel and experience our body and visceral sensations. This ability can be deeply impacted by the experience of trauma. Furthermore, memories of somatic trauma are implicit, within body sensations, not explicit as narrative. In other words, memory of a trauma is held within the body, not within the frontal lobe where story telling would originate.

In order to have a sense of agencythe feeling of being in charge of your life, there needs to be interoception, attachment and attunement, these latter two a crucial part of healthy childhood development where the child develops a sense of self. Attachment is the act of developing a bond with a primary caregiver, usually a mother or father. Attunement is the synching of emotions and physical actions with another person, again usually the primary caregiver. This relies on mirror neurons, which Van der Kolk aptly describes as neural WiFi allowing one to pick up the movement, emotional state and intention of someone else.

I worked to understand what Van der Kolk referred to as the essence of trauma: Dissociation. 

Dissociation [happens when] the overwhelming experience is split off and fragmented, so that the emotions, sounds images, thoughts, and physical sensations related to the trauma take on a life of their own. The sensory fragments of memory intrude into the present, where they are literally relived. As long as the trauma is not resolved, the stress hormones that the body secretes to protect itself keep circulating, and the defensive movements and emotional responses keep getting replayed. (pg 66)

If the first two hundred pages are all about the brain and an explanation of trauma, told via other people’s stories, the last hundred and fifty are about recovery.

Trauma robs you of the feeling that you are in charge of yourself, of what I will call self-leadership…The challenge of recovery is to reestablish ownership of your body and your mind – of your self. This means feeling free to know what you know and to feel what you feel without becoming overwhelmed, enraged, ashamed, or collapsed. (pg 203)

Alas, while I wanted to leave this book with a sense of hopefulness, I found myself as discouraged as Van der Kolk when he noted in his conclusion that our western society does not seem compelled to visit the causes of trauma. Currently in the United States our various civic and political structures often undermine the very approaches that research tells us would help ameliorate the base causes of trauma. As he concludes: The choice is ours to act on what we know.

 

Book Review – The Art of Dying Well

from my Goodreads Review of The Art of Dying Well – A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life by Katy Butler


My father died in a nursing home; my mother died in her home, having set the conditions for how she wanted die. I prefer the latter, which is why I am drawn to books about (as this author calls it) the art of dying well. It is a handy “practical guide to a good end of life.”

As I am not in this phase of life, most of the book does not currently pertain, causing me to chuckle at the start of most chapters. Katy Butler begins chapters with “you are likely to find this chapter useful if…” followed by a list of descriptors, most which pertain to someone who is edging close to or ready for death. However, precisely because I am not at these stages yet, her book is helpful in thinking about death and how it can be a better process than most of us might otherwise imagine.

Sitting in my desk drawer are several versions of forms, any of which when filled out will stipulate the types of life-saving procedures I do or do not want administered. I have at least three versions and they are currently all blank. Butler is adamant that some type of “authorized representative” form be filled out that will let someone else interact with Medicare and have access to medical records, along with a Durable Power of Attorney for Finances, a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, an Advance Directive and a Living Will. All of these forms are designed to be of guidance to anyone who will be helping you in any capacity when a time comes that you are unable to make decisions (be it temporarily or permanently) for yourself.

She further suggests Choosing Wisely to help eliminate unnecessary health screenings and Drugs.com or the Beers List from the American Geriatrics Society. The list helps check for drugs that are unhelpful or even dangerous for elders, and the Society is a useful resource tool.

In general, she recommends an HMO and Medicare Advantage, which she feels is better than a fee-for-service Medicare plan. And she absolutely states, multiple times, the importance of having a DNR and POLST or MOLST, creating multiple laminated copies and mounting one on the frig, keeping one in the car, giving copies to your doctor and those people most likely to meet you in an emergency situation or at the hospital.

POLST stands for Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment and more about this can be found at the National POLST Paradigm. MOLST stands for Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment. These vary by state, so you would need to find the form for your state. Nonetheless, you can learn more about this at MOLST. Overall, Butler urges going for “comfort care.”

In the final chapter, Butler describes a program that I found phenomenal in its care of and approach to aiding not just an individual who is in the final stages of life, whether the individual has months ahead of them or just days, but also aiding their family. The program began in Syracuse, New York, although there are a few versions elsewhere around the country. The Syracuse program is PACEStay in the home you love. Get the care you need. This is based somewhat on the Eden Alternative, an organization I have read about in the past, it is dedicated to creating quality of life for Elders and their care partners, wherever they may live.

If you are of a certain age or have ideas or concerns about the dying stage of life, I heartily suggest reading this book. It might help dispel fears, and it certainly will provide what, for some people, will feel like a more positive alternative for facing and dealing with death, be it your own or someone you know. Further, Katy Butler provides multiple bits of information (many linked to in this review) that, unless it conflicts with your religious views, can be of tremendous assistance to you and those who might care for you if need be.

I think it an important enough book to have my husband and children read it at some point in the future and at the very least it is a prod for me to revisit topics with them that I have discussed in the past. (And sooner rather than later I should fill out one of the forms sitting in my desk drawer!) (And by the way, those forms can be revised as minds and circumstances change.)

Living Your Yoga

Last night I finished reading Judith Lasater’s Living Your Yoga – Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life. I found this book while doing research to satisfy my curiosity about her, as Lasater is teaching an online class (Experiential Anatomy) that interests me. I was hooked by the book and last night wrote this brief review on Goodreads:

While I rarely understood the translations of any given chapter’s opening Yoga Sutra or verse from the Bhagavad Gita, I completely understood Judith Hanson Lasater’s explanations. By illustrating each with a personal story she makes the teachings accessible and relatable.

I found myself wrapped up in the short chapters and Lasater’s writing, the combination which caused me to pause for introspection in a way that other, similar type books have rarely managed to do. I paused several times in the reading to jot down a quote or a thought that sprang to mind. Those notes, and my response to the book, are going to wind up in a blog post in the near future!

And THIS is the blog post. 🙂

THE FIRST POP
The first piece that struck a chord was from Spiritual Seeking, the first chapter. Lasater writes that “Suffering is caused by the emotional reaction we lay on top of our pain. By becoming aware of our emotions and thoughts about pain, their hold on us can be released and our suffering can be lessened.” This approach resonated partially because I have a high tolerance for physical pain, and also because I can recall numerous times either I or my children counted backwards while getting a shot.

Taking my mind off the thought of the pain that might come from the shot, and switching my concentration to counting backwards, proved to be a perfect antidote to the “getting” of the shot. It is now not unusual to be completely unaware of when the shot is actually given.

THE SECOND POP
In the third chapter, Letting Go, I immediately thought of when my Dad was living in a nursing home and dealing with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Lasater talks about shifting perspective and opening yourself to seeing things the way they really are. With the help of yoga (I began my practice while caring for my Dad) I learned to truly appreciate the moments spent together without letting the sadness interfere with our visits. While yoga did not resolve or negate my sadness, yoga did help me make space for my sadness and at the same time hold space for spending positive time with my Dad in smiles and joy.

THE THIRD POP
During my 200 hour yoga teacher training Paula, one of our three teachers, shared this pithy approach to life: A good “no” is better than a bad “yes.” Imagine my head nodding in agreement upon reading Lasater’s words in Service, chapter sixteen: You can say no if that is more truthful than a resentful yes.

The idea here is that being of service, giving service, is all well and good and important, but not at the expense of the person giving. The caregiver needs to take care of themself in order to be truly able to care for another. So, too, with being of service as a volunteer. It is okay, indeed necessary, to sometimes say “no” or to take a break so as to recharge and not forget the joy in and reason for volunteering in the first place. Sometimes you need to relax and renew in order to sustain.

THE FOURTH POP
Early on, in chapter two on Discipline, Lasater provided thoughts related to practice. All those years of piano practicing as a child in order to “get better” and here are words of wisdom stating that while practicing can improve skills, the heart of practicing isn’t to “get better” but rather what you put into the practice in heart and soul.

Do what you can and do it fully.

Practice is not about what you get, it is about what you give.

thoughts

I do not utter any mantra with regularity or even occasionally. However, I do have these two sentiments on slips of paper, provided during two special yoga classes. I just happened to randomly chose each slip, and both sentiments were spot on for what I needed then and continue to need. These slips sit on the shelf above my bed; they are my welcome reminder to practice what they state.

They are reminders to be here now. While some of my musings on Lasater’s book may seem disjointed, the items that popped out serve as continued reminders to make space for what is and be in the moment.

Book Review – Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers

from my Goodreads Review:

In the recent yoga therapy training I took with Jillian Pransky she referenced this book multiple times. Before sitting down to read Robert Sapolsky’s book I watched this 90 minute talk he gave at The Beckman Institute for Advanced Science at the University of Illinois in June 2017. Sapolsky is an entertaining speaker and makes his points with a wonderful blend of humor, anecdotes and science.

zebrasHis book is written in that same voice, making it immensely easy to read, absorb and digest. Sapolsky starts off by explaining what stress is and how the body responds to stress. With the physiology as a foundation, he then tackles a multitude of diseases, each receiving their own chapter. Some of these I skimmed, some I skipped and others I devoured. He concludes by culling from previous chapters some of the strategies that can be useful for managing stress, along the way reminding us that even the strategies require a balance between too much and not enough.

Science has found many connections between stress and illness, both biological and psychological, and perhaps the most daunting are the causes related to what Sapolsky calls in the apt named chapter 17: “The View from the Bottom.” The place a person has in society, the education of a person’s parents, the level of wealth or poverty, socioeconomic status…these all impact the role that stress can have on a child as the child grows and develops, and on the ensuing adult that child becomes.

There is much in this book that could be construed as daunting, yet Sapolsky presents a balance in almost all of his teaching (for that’s what this book is, a teaching.) I was intrigued by the biology of stress and now understand what is happening in my body when it produces a cold sore. It was interesting to learn why some people eat when stressed and others have a loss of appetite.

Ultimately, everything boils down to understanding our autonomic nervous system, which is composed of the sympathetic nervous system – those parts of our system over which we have little to no control – and our parasympathetic nervous system – those parts over which we do have some control. The biggie here is that the sympathetic nervous system is what activates our stress response, what is commonly referred to as fight, flight or feint, while our parasympathetic nervous system, when activated via the vagus nerve, is known for rest and digest.

For more on any of this, however, read Sapolsky’s book! Take in the early chapters to create a base line of understanding about stress and the body, then read those chapters that have a connection to you, and finish up with the final chapter.