How A Little Help from my Friends and Mindfulness Meditation Saved my Life!

Katherine Tallmadge practicing Mindfulness Meditation in the Countryside

Katherine Tallmadge practicing Mindfulness Meditation in the Countryside

I’ve experienced tough times during the past couple of years. Of course, I’m no exception. We all have tough times. That’s life, isn’t it? “You can’t feel joy unless you’ve felt pain… blah, blah, blah…” Yes, I know already! How about a little joy, folks? God? Higher Being? After being in pain and inactive for so long, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m physically and mentally exhausted and depressed. Symptoms like debilitating headaches and stomach pain have now taken over and are keeping me from living life fully. I had to change, but it’s been tough. I’ve been taking one step forward and two steps back for a while.

We’ll talk about my personal “issues” (no one has “problems” any more!) during the past couple of years in my next installment. For now, I’ll be in the present and try to talk you into the same. You may know that I work with clients helping them turn their lives around, to live healthier, happier, and more energetically, through gentle counseling in nutrition, exercise, spirituality, stress management, and life organization. So, I feel fortunate to know the process. I thought I would share my “metamorphosis” with you, so perhaps you might gain some insight for yourself

Attempting to recover, my first step has been allowing myself to have more positive experiences. I say “allowing myself” because I had to take action to get out of my negative state. No one could do it for me. I forced myself to start listening – and responding – to the friends, loved ones, and health care professionals in my life to get out of isolation, back to socializing a little more with good friends, participating in good causes, and exercising a little. This meant “working through the pain,” an admonishment I came to detest, but one I knew was true (I had already been evaluated medically).

I started reading a book recommended by the Reverend Timothy A.R. Cole, the rector of Christ Church Georgetown, called “The Book of Joy,” co-authored by The 14th Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmund Tutu. Two of the most positive, spiritual, and productive men on earth who have suffered unheard of atrocities. If they can overcome their obstacles – exile, refugee life, apartheid, targets of hate and prejudice – can’t we?

In “The Book of Joy,” both spiritual leaders emphasize meditation or prayer as the foundation of a happy life. They meditate, pray, have quiet time, for several hours every morning. Can I do that? Will I do that? Should I expect my clients to do that? Well, probably not. But, I’m going to turn my life around using these methods – my own way. In the 1990s I worked with – and sent my clients to – a psychologist specializing in biofeedback (Karan Kverno, Ph.D. no longer in private practice), and I knew the deep breathing techniques were scientifically proven to help many health conditions, but I had gotten away from the practice.

Second step: I decided my personalized way would be Mindfulness Meditation with a little yoga thrown in. I do a little in the morning, and spurts here and there through the day. And if I can do it, you can do it – that is, in your own way. Like you, I’m a hard working professional (and I’m including stay-at-home Moms and Dads). I don’t have a lot of time. But as a health care professional and life coach, I know by many years of experience that there are certain priorities in life that cannot be ignored, or the consequences are dire.

Changing the way you think and calming your mind are the cornerstones of understanding yourself and achieving any behavior or life change. But you have to learn how to be “mindful” first. “Mindfulness is the ability to be present, more focused, and clear; for concentration to be more sustained, and for attention to be on what’s happening, instead of on thoughts, memories, and associations,” said Jack Killen, when he was the Deputy Director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

“There is neurobiological research that demonstrates that mindfulness engages pathways in the brain… [they] allow your brain to be focused on what is here and now… [so you’re] more able to think through a problem, less likely to be distracted by issues that won’t help,” said Killen. “Meditation is one way of exercising neurological pathways in the brain which help us become more mindful.”

So, how do I or you choose a way to become more mindful… a way that fits your lifestyle, beliefs, and personality? Here’s what I did this weekend toward this goal: I left the city I love to visit a good friend in the beautiful and serene countryside of Pennsylvania. My Swedish friend, Anna, is one of the warmest, kindest, most loving people I know. She exudes elegance in a simple, down-to-earth (very Swedish) way. I love visiting her.

On the way to the Pennsylvania countryside, I called a few friends I haven’t talked to in a while. That felt good. I was enjoying the drive. My headache was disappearing. When I got there, my happiness was overflowing, my headache was gone. Being in the countryside, and being with a good friend, somehow motivated me to get out of bed early (my headache came back, ugh!). I started with a cup of coffee (strong, smooth Swedish style), then sat in a comfortable chair facing the trees. I began deep belly breathing, centering my mind on the moment, checking each part of my body for signs of stress, and then relaxing it. I put on some favorite music (rock ‘n roll was my pleasure at the moment). I spontaneously got up and started dancing. I continued with the deep breathing and started some yoga exercises. My headache finally left me again. The worst of my stomach pain was gone went I recently went off anti-inflammatory medications I was taking, based on my doctor’s and pharmacist’s recommendations.

Am I cured? No. I have a long road to hoe. My headaches and exhaustion – which are probably largely related to the stress left over from the issues of the past couple of years – are not entirely gone, but at least I know I have some control over them. I have to work at my deep breathing, stretching and light exercising continuously. Training your brain to be more mindful “is a bit like going to the gym and working out your muscles. It takes time and practice for the beneficial brain pathways to become established, similar to building muscular strength and flexibility,” said Killen.

Along with the breathing exercises, I need to make an effort to stay in touch with and socialize with the people I care about. But those are only steps one and two! I still need to work on much more. Getting back to exercising my body more regularly is the next big hurdle. I don’t know how long it will take to get to my former fit self, or even a better self. But at least I’m off to a good start. And you can be, too! But be sure to check with your doctor so any serious medical condition is ruled out.

I’ll keep you posted!

Call Katherine: 202-833-0353 or Email Her
For more fabulous tips and simple, effective ways to lose weight,
buy her book, Diet Simple!

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