Tag Archives: books

Fabulous Fashionistas or Aging with Pizzazz

There are numerous posts on this blog about aging (or ageing) as it is a reality of life and a topic that has interested me ever since my Dad entered his late 60s (when I was in my late 30s) and began showing signs of dementia. I wanted to better understand the aging process, and how people cope with what can be for some a debilitating process.

The first half of this post’s title comes from the 47 minute documentary of the same name that I just finished watching. It speaks for itself and, if all goes well, is embedded just below these opening lines.

I learned of the documentary from Ashton Applewhite’s book This Chair Rocks – A Manifesto Against Ageism, which I am in the midst of reading. And I learned about Ashton and her book from Judith Boyd of Style Crone, a blogger and Instagrammer I’ve been following for almost seven years. 

As for Ashton’s book, turns out even those of us who think we are beyond using ageist terminology probably use it more than we realize; I certainly am discovering that thanks to her writing.

One other thread that caused me to smile…the Gillian in the documentary is the same Gillian Lynne who Sir Ken Robinson talked about in his groundbreaking TED Talk Do schools kill creativity? starting at the 14 minute mark where he mentions what he considers the third aspect of intelligence.

Okay, I’m stressed. Now what?

We can change the way we cope, both
physiologically and psychologically.

Acute stress and the body’s response to it is typically a one-two-three quick and it’s over situation, with the body soon returning to its healthy wellness balance. Chronic stress, on the other hand, is ongoing, providing precious little opportunity for the body to return to its healthy wellness balance. It is the chronic stress that causes the damage, and the damage can be physical, emotional or psychological, or any combination of these. From Robert Sapolsky, page 245 of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers:

…the hormones of the stress-response should be nice and quiet when nothing bad is happening, secreted in tiny amounts. When a stressful emergency hits, your body needs a huge and fast stress-response. At the end of the stressor, everything should shut off immediately.”

To understand what happens when the stress-response doesn’t shut off immediately I suggest you read Sapolsky’s book, as he goes in-depth into how undue stress impacts us, with focus on multiple stress-related diseases. Thankfully, he also provides some insight into how to ameliorate the impact of ongoing stress, citing four factors the management of which can make a positive difference.

  • Having an outlet, “especially a healthy outlet, especially physical activity” is primary because the stress response primes the body for physical action so what better approach than to provide an outlet for that physical need! In any case, the frustration generated by the stress needs to have a positive outlet.
  • Being part of a social network or having a close friend to provide support to you but also, equally important, for you to provide support to them. Social support is a two-way process of receiving and of giving.
  • The importance of predictability, the ability to have a sense of what will happen by having “accurate information and in manageable quantities,” though Sapolsky noted that too much predicability can lead to boredom and too little can lead to stimulation, some of which might be exciting and too much of which can be stressful.
  • The importance of control, the ability to have an impact on the direction of events. “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst” and “control what can be controlled.”

Sapolsky says that the loss of predictability and control are closely related. The sense of being able to predict and control something provides the perception of things improving, which can have a positive impact on managing the response to the stress.

He further suggests that meditation can be a balm when done regularly and sustained over a period of time. Finally, it is important to pick the right strategy at the right time.

Repetition of certain activities can change the connection
between your behavior and activation of your stress-response.

The Relaxation Response – part 1

I have concurrently been reading two books by Dr Herbert Benson: Timeless Healing – The Power and Biology of Belief, and the Relaxation Response. Dr Benson is the founder of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr Benson came into my viewfinder as a result of ongoing yoga studies with Jillian Pransky, and participation in last Fall’s online class Being Well in a Digital Age – The Science and Practice of Yoga. I’ve written numerous posts here about the course, including a piece here about the human nervous system that concludes with information about the Relaxation Response and a video of Dr Benson guiding the response.

In doing the above searching it turns out I also wrote about the Relaxation Response in October 2011 after assisting in a workshop entitled Preventing Burnout. (I keep thinking perhaps that blog and this should be merged; it would be so much easier to track related posts!) In that post I included a link to the web site RelaxationResponse.org as well Steps to Elicit the Relaxation Response.

You have perhaps heard of the “fight or flight” response. I have also seen “faint” added to the combo. “Fight or flight” is the body’s natural response when it senses a stressful situation. Back in the day, this likely meant a predator was present, and the human had to very quickly figure out what to do as a matter of self-preservation.

In that instance, when faced with a threatening situation, the beating of the human’s heart sped up, their blood pressure increased, they started breathing faster, and their metabolism sped up. To prepare for movement for running or fighting more blood flowed to the muscles in the arms and legs, and muscle tension increased. The signals for these bodily changes were brought about by the release of the hormones adrenalin (epinephrine) and noradrenalin (norepinephrine), which triggered the human’s brain and muscles into action. In perceiving a stressful situation the human automatically released these stress hormones, which in turn caused bodily changes in the human making it possible to react (hopefully with success!) to the perceived stress.

This is all well and good when a life threatening stimulus presents itself to a human. However, in this day and age many of the stimuli that we face are not life-threatening, yet our bodies respond to the stimuli as if it was life-threatening. This presents a problem for the individual because those same stress hormones are released whenever the brain perceives a stressful situation. Dr Benson provides a definition of stress in The Wellness Book: The Comprehensive Guide to Maintaining Health and Treating Stress-Related Illness (another book I recently read).

Stress is the perception of a threat to one’s physical or psychological well-being and the perception that one is unable to cope with that threat.

In The Wellness Book Benson distinguishes between good stress, which can have a positive impact, and distress, which is chronic or excessive stress. Positive stress will dissipate and leave minimal side effects behind; chronic stress does not dissipate and causes actual harm to the body. In particular, chronic stress causes high blood pressure, which is medically known as hypertension, and is considered a precursor to heart attacks and strokes.

There are many ways to respond to the sensation of stress, some that alleviate it in a more beneficial manner, and some, such as overeating or bingeing on unhealthy delectables, excessive drinking of alcohol, or reliance on  drugs that provide temporary respite while causing detrimental side effects. In Benson’s research he found that the Relaxation Response is a built-in, natural response that can be evoked to counteract the effects of the body’s automatic stress response. For more about this, please see The Relaxation Response – part 2.


the End of Old Age (a book, not a proclamation!)

[Over dinner this evening I was telling my husband about this book and my review. His response turned out to be the perfect succinct comment about Marc Agronin and this book. My husband said, “he has a growth mindset about aging.”]

In making his case for aging, geriatric psychiatrist Marc Agronin is first and foremost a passionate optimist. This book combines Agronin’s action plan for making the most of our lives as we age with interesting and often uplifting stories of people who are aging.

He poses two sets of questions, the first being When do you think you made better decisions – when you were 21-years old or now? This question is designed to help the reader realize that with age comes wisdom.

The second set of questions are rhetorical, answered by Agronin, and based upon his description of five core strengths that I’ve noted below.

Why age? To grow in wisdom.
Why survive? To realize a purpose.
Why thrive? To create something new.

Agronin believes we have a repository of strengths, and his action plan is designed to tap into those strengths, some of which we may have forgotten we have, some of which we may have not realized we’ve tapped, and some which will be tapped or retapped in new ways. These strengths are:

Knowledge, the Savant that “learns, sows, and teaches”
Judgement, the Sage that “weighs and decides”
Empathy, the Curator that “cares and connects”
Creativity, the Creator that “imagines and makes”
and finally, Insight, the Seer that “accepts and communes”

This book is a practical and positive roadmap to taking stock on one’s life, no matter how abysmal it may be at the moment, and acknowledging who you were up to that point and who you want to be moving forward. This is all well and good but it presupposes that there are adequate resources available, be they monetary, people, treatment centers, and community. For the people in Florida who have the good fortune to work with Marc Agronin, this is likely a positive way forward for them in their aging.

My life experience with both my parents has shown me a different path through aging. I did not have access to some of the adequate resources that make a difference. For instance, I dealt with a doctor who cruised through nursing homes and did not establish relationships with family members, nursing home staff and rehab staff who were underpaid and overworked (despite both locations being known as “high quality”), and a basic ignorance on my part of where to even begin. Had a doctor been available or known to me with Marc Agronin’s apparent compassion and belief in positive aging, including in the face of illness, my skepticism about “the End of Old Age” might be non-existent.

[Reprinted from my Goodreads book review.]

Stroke of Insight redux (this time as a book)

[Not including the links below to blog posts I’ve previously written, the rest of this is a repost of my Goodread’s book review of Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight. ]

If you have yet to see Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED Talk, I urge you to watch it AND to then read her book. I have watched the talk multiple times in the years since it was first made available (my first viewing was described here in 2008), and each time am awed by what she has to say and how she says it.

Jill’s words are inspiring and humbling. This is so for her talk as well as for her book. Her book, especially, resonated with me on multiple levels. My mother had a stroke (which I wrote about here), and so Jill’s description of what happened to her, and her experience going through the immediate aftermath and ensuing treatment, gave me insight into what my mother may have experienced.

I was fascinated on the basic level of learning more about the brain. I find the thought of myself continually changing as I age. It used to be I was simply a human being. Now, having learned over the years more about the brain, and having come to understand that my human body is actually host to a vast variety of microbes, my concept of being human has evolved. Being human is an awesome entity and collection of entities!

As a yoga practitioner and teacher of other yogis, I particularly appreciated the latter portions of Jill’s book where she talks about what she has learned in order to be able to tap into her right brain bliss.

In this age of intense political discourse, where the news can sometimes color the tone of the entire day (and not necessarily in a positive way), the more we understand how to access the positive, healing, joyful parts of our beings, the more healthy and hopeful our lives and the lives of all of us can become.

Summer Reading

My husband and I are voracious readers year round. I love to read. Always have. Biographies of historical figures, Victorian novels (Wilkie Collins–of the time–and Michael Cox–in the style of the time), mysteries, almost all the books by Iain Pears, Rebecca Wells, Van Reid, Ann Patchett, Tina McElroy Ansa, Amy Tan, the first five books by Jasper Fforde, many of Barbara Kingsolver’s books, Vernor Vinge, Dan Brown, Jostein Gaarder, a number by Haruki Murakami, War and Peace, and one or two books by Kate Atkinson, Sue Monk Kid, Garth Stein, Anita Diamant, Arundhati Roy, Khaled Hosseini, Umberto Eco, Takashi Matsuoka, John Berendt, Marisha Pessl, Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Audre Lorde, to name but a very few. Not to mention the extensive array of books read for professional edification and satisfaction. (That’s one set of shelves above, my desk shelf below, there are more throughout our house, and we just donated 12 cartons of books to a local library, disposed of 4 other cartons, and vowed to make greater use of our school and local libraries!)

Yup, that’s a bit of author~title name dropping, just enough to give you the sense that I read a lot, year round, and with a bit of variety. I’ve kept book journals – the first in an AppleWorks word processing document. When it reached over 50 pages, I decided to stop the journal. I was on journal hiatus for awhile, until my older son gave me a hard cover journal as a gift on one of his trips home. Been keeping that journal fairly consistently for the past year.

I’ve belonged to book groups but after the second metamorphosis of the group, I decided to become a group of one because I like to determine what I am going to read.

Now I find myself in the curious position of having a number of books assigned to me to be read this summer. In general, I am not a fan of assigned summer reading, at least not for myself, because, as you may have already gathered, I like to choose what I read. If I had my druthers, rather than assigning reading to faculty or kids, I would solicit from all of them input on their favorite books and what they planned to read for themselves, and then share a list of those titles with everyone as a way of enlarging our overall repertoire from which to choose.

However, I am a fan, on occasion, of suggested reading, especially if it will complement a topic that will be the focus of the school year, or as a way of ensuring that everyone has been exposed to the basic tenets of the topic at hand. And even better if the suggested reading provides a list from which to choose, rather than have everyone read the same book.

And so it is in this spirit that I approach my summer reading. Here is what I am going to devour and digest this summer, in addition to continuing with the very large and detailed book on human anatomy that accompanies Marian Diamond’s lectures. I’d love to know what you are reading; please feel free to share the titles in a comment.

  • 5 Minds for the Future by Howard Gardner – required reading for our faculty
  • Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen – required of all our 7th and 8th graders and their advisors (of which I am one)
  • The Complete Guide to Service Learning by Cathryn Berger Kaye (plus two related pdfs) – required for each of us on my school’s Public Purpose Task Force
  • Yardsticks by Chip Wood – a professional book purchased for myself back in April, read at that time to fill in some gaps, and the remainder saved to enjoy over the summer
  • the imperfectionists by Tom Rachman – quite enjoyed the NYT book review so added the book to my summer stash
  • The Passionate Fact by Susan Strauss – a book about storytelling, given to me by my older son, begun awhile ago and I’d like to finish it this summer
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett – purchased at my school’s Spring Book Fair on the recommendation of a number of folks at the fair

and for the 40 hour, one week intensive YogaEd course I’ll be taking in August, just two of the many suggested readings:

By the way, the New York City Public Library even has a Summer Reading site that struck my eye because the URL is no less than  http://www.summerreading.org/ ! AND thanks to the feature of WordPress that generates related posts, here’s the She Reads blog chronicling one person’s efforts to read a book a week. Though she hasn’t managed to stay current with that goal, I enjoyed Jade’s refreshing critiques, discovering books I have not read, and the honesty in her writing.