Archive for September 30, 2016

How to be a Good Listener

senior-couple-talking-at-home_1098-1310When was the last time you felt really listened to? Can you think of a time when somebody sat down with you and gave you their undivided, respectful attention? Do you know the feeling of being encouraged to go deeper, to tap into your own knowing in the presence of another?

Do you know what it’s like to have a listener who assumes you know the answers even if, at the moment, you’re confused and uncertain? Imagine a listener who treads gently and patiently, keeping you company as you find your own answers. Believe it or not, a good listener can help you get in touch with your own wisdom.

Good Listeners Are Rare

You’re probably familiar with listeners who can’t wait to interrupt you with their own tales. They’re just waiting for you to pause so they can jump in with their own clever remarks.Then there are “listeners” who rush in to give you good advice. “No, no,” you want to say, “I don’t want your advice. I just want you to listen.” Good listeners are hard to find.

What are the Qualities of a Skilled Listener?

So what makes an effective listener? Skilled listeners know how to set aside their own concerns while they listen to you. They set aside everything they know about your subject and everything that’s going on in their own lives. Their goal is to know, as much as is humanly possible, what it’s like to be another person. Good listeners help you connect with your own wisdom and with your own solutions to problems. They stay with you while you figure things out and listen with an attitude of humility. They believe it’s an honor to be let into your inner process.

5 Guidelines for Effective Listening

Believe it or not, if you stick with the person you’re listening to she’ll probably come up with her own answers. What are the guidelines for being a great listener?

Suspend Judgement

Set aside all your own mental busyness and all your knowledge about the subject at hand. Even if you’re an expert on the subject, just listen closely. It would be presumptuous to give advice or “know” what needs to happen.

Reflect on the Emotional Side of the Conversation

Reflect back some of her words, especially emotional words. People tend to rush by the emotional parts of their story. This is usually where the gold lies.

Slow Down and Truly Understand

Slow the person down. Say, “Could you just go back to… “or “Help me understand ….” Don’t rush.

Seek for Clarity and Understanding

Don’t give the impression that the person needs to satisfy your curiosity. The goal is to help them to clarify their own understanding.

Accept Lack of Perfection in the Exchange

Don’t worry if you say something wrong. The other person will correct you and the process itself is self-correcting. Hearing something back helps the person get clearer on how it really is, whether you say it exactly right or not.

This model for listening comes out of focusing and is called Experiential Listening. It takes practice. If the idea interests you, perhaps you could find a friend who’d like to practice this way of listening with you. Then you’ll both have someone to listen to you.

What are your experiences with listening and being listened to? Join the conversation and let others know your thoughts about listening.

Five Signs of Aging We Don’t Want to Admit

Imamma-embarassed_2799752 thought I’d write about the embarrassment and sense of loss we experience when physical signs pop up to tell us the body’s getting old. It helps to know we’re not alone and that our reactions are shared by other women. Let me tell you about Margaret Manning’s report the other morning on Mornings with Sixty and Me.

Aching feet

What happens: The fatty pads on the bottom of the feet get thinner. We’re prone to plantar fasciitis, a painful condition that causes you pain when you put weight on the foot. Arthritis is another problem.

What to do about it: Swimming and yoga are good for your feet. Up to now, many of us haven’t given much thought to our feet. Practice going up on your toes and working the joints of toes and feet.

Saggy boobs

What happens: The estrogen level in the body drops and the breast tissues get weak.

What to do about it: When’s the last time you were fitted for a bras? Get a good bras and do chest presses to strengthen the muscles supporting the breasts. Don’t waste your money on lotions. They don’t work.

Rogue chin hairs

What happens: Unexpected coarse hairs appear on the face, especially around the chin.

What to do: Buy some good tweezers and pluck them. It’s not true that plucking will make them grow in coarser and faster. Don’t buy creams or wax.

Going slightly deaf

What happens: Our ears, as every other part of the body, no longer works the way it once did.

What to do about it: Don’t panic. It’s most likely a buildup of wax. See your doctor.

Slight incontinence

What happens: The pelvic muscles weaken.

What to do: Don’t be embarrassed. Just learn to live with it. Exercises to strengthen the pelvic muscles help. Avoid caffeine and soda drinks.

To sum it all up: Old Age Is Not For Sissies.

Find Margaret at sixtyandme.com/mornings

Four Tips to Help Your Memory

cup-of-coffee-with-a-pile-of-coffee-beans_1112-438Most mornings I sit down with my coffee and my computer to join Margaret Manning on her Sixty and Me morning show. Margaret covers the day’s news and always has useful tips for making the most of post-retirement. Her website is a repository of practical ideas for those of us wanting to deal creatively with aging.

I’m pleased to be a guest blogger on Sixty and Me. Just type in my name on the site to see my articles on listening, on how to respond when a friend tells you she was sexually abused in childhood, on the loss of energy we experience as we age and on how I’ve been learning to make new friends in my new city of Kingston.

Picture what I see in the morning on my computer screen as I sit down to watch. Margaret is sipping her mug of coffee. Her long blond/grey hair and makeup are just right for an older face. She has a slight English accent from her early life in the U.K. These days she lives in Switzerland.

Here’s what she had to say in a recent post about improving memory. Coffee is good for memory. That’s a scientific fact, she says, taking another sip from her mug. She then proceeds to tell us about other things that actually do help with aging memory.

The scientifically proven list

Caffeine

Physical Exercise

Squeezing Stress Balls

Omega 3

Caffeine: Some years ago I joined the five-session weekly workshop for the normal aging brain at Baycrest Hospital in Toronto. Baycrest, a centre for research as well as treatment of older people, makes clear it teaches nothing that is not proven. Believe me, as a coffee drinker, I was delighted to learn that coffee would help my memory.

Physical Exercise: Your brain can’t function at its best without sufficient blood flow. Give your brain the oxygen it needs by doing whatever it takes to get you breathing deeply. If your physical condition is challenged by walking around your neighbourhood, then that’s your exercise of choice. It’s important to recognize your limitations while gently pushing those limits. Maybe vigorous walking, jogging, swimming, climbing hills or cycling is right for you. You need to be the judge.

Stress Balls: Margaret explains that you take 2 stress balls, one in either hand, alternately squeezing left and right. As a retired EMDR practitioner, this makes sense to me. I know about the effectiveness of alternately stimulating the two hemispheres of the brain. Left, right, left, right, left, right. We need to remember our brains can change for the better as well as for the worse. I intend to go out and buy myself a couple of those balls.

Omega Three: The Mayo Clinic informs us that there is strong evidence for the use of omega 3 fatty acids in reducing heart disease, high blood pressure and rheumatoid arthritis. Fish oil and salmon are rich sources.

The media bombards us with claims to improve the lives of our aging population. It’s good to have a list of some that are proven to be effective.

In my next blog post I’ll tell you about Margaret Manning’s views on Five Signs of Aging We Don’t Want to Admit.

 Feel free to add your comments below.

Learning To Love My Lungs

Dear Reader: 

It’s September! Where did summer go? I’ve had a really lazy couple of months and now it feels good to be blogging again. I want to give you an update on my lung condition and on my life in general. What I have to say about managing my lung disease should be helpful to others, regardless of the health issues involved. Turns out I know quite a bit about dealing with illness: I’d just never applied it to myself.  

beautiful-sailing-boat-masts_1122-603Kingston’s a wonderful city, especially in the summer. From my apartment I watch the sail boat races and the children’s sailing classes.  The yacht club is my next-door neighbour, so I joined as a social member. It’s my “cottage in the city.” Somebody else does all the work. I get to swim, sit down for meals and enjoy the sights. Now, that’s my sort of cottage.  

Along with everything else over the summer, I’ve been neglecting the memoir I’m writing. At this point, I’m attempting to write a synopsis of its contents in the hope of finding the narrative flow. The problem is, the story keeps changing. When I started writing it, I was moving to Kingston with my husband of 54 years. Then I moved out to live on my own, attempting to maintain a civil relationship with him. Alas, this has not worked out and now the tale is one of learning to take care of myself, instead of everyone around me. I hope you’ll hang in there with me and keep on reading my blog. Today it’s about my lung disease.  

I’m always happy to hear from you in the comments section.  

Here’s to being back at work, back at school and back to all we have to be grateful for.  

Best wishes, 

Mary 

MAKING FRIENDS WITH ILL HEALTH 

The bad news

Some weeks ago I received bad news. I’d been diagnosed with COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, a lung condition they say won’t go away and will increasingly limit my ability to exert myself. It seems so unfair. Physical fitness, cardiovascular workouts, yoga and walking the dog up steep hills – all of these have been part of my routine for a healthy body. What’s more, I stopped smoking 48 years ago. How could this be happening to me?

Mourning my losses

I got really mad and went through all five stages of mourning until I finally accepted my new reality. At this point, I remembered I knew something about helping troubled parts of the body.

I have some skills

As a yoga teacher and then as a Focusing therapist, I learned many ways of dealing with illness. I just never had to apply this knowledge to myself. Whether it’s a broken leg or a heart condition, there are attitudes and approaches that aid in healing. I know it’s important to work with the injury, not against it.

Relate to the injured part as you would to another person, a person you really care about

On the theory that every cell in your body has intelligence and is paying attention, we need to establish a loving relationship with the troubled part. It’s important to let it know that you appreciate its struggle and will do everything in your power to help. I tell my lungs that I’m terribly sorry they had to take the brunt of the stress I’ve been under for a year and a half as I downsized, sold the house in Toronto, bought a bungalow in Kingston, moved in, struggled to settle into Kingston, all the while dealing with a stressful relationship. Something had to give. My poor lungs must have been the weakest part of the system.

Work with the treatment

Most of us don’t like what the medical profession offers. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to embrace chemotherapy or radiation: yet, having made the decision to accept modern medicine’s help, we need to welcome it. Otherwise we set up a hostile relationship between our bodies and the treatment. For me, it’s the puffer I’ve decided to use each morning. This little instrument crushes a capsule into the white powder I inhale into my lungs. It comes with a warning not to touch the crushed capsule with your bare hands. If, by chance, your skin contacts the powder, you’re to wash your hands immediately. If it would poison my hands, imagine what it does to my tender lungs!

Nevertheless, I know from my teachers along the way that it’s vital to wholeheartedly embrace whatever remedy I’ve accepted from my physicians.

My new routine

In addition to the prescription, I sit down each day to support my lungs. I begin by talking to them, letting them know I’m compassionate with their struggle. Next come the instructions from one of my yoga teachers:

Breathe, she tells me, not just into the diaphragm, but into the pelvic basin. Imagine a series of three more diaphragms pushing down as your breath moves the diaphragm deeper into the abdominal cavity. Breathe deep into the pelvic basin.

Release any tension in the muscles involved in breathing

I always thought my ribcage was there to protect my lungs and heart. Now I’m aware of its role in breathing. Side-stretching addresses all those muscles along the ribcage. In addition to diaphragmatic breathing, I concentrate on widening my chest to release my upper back muscles and open my chest. Massage helps the muscles involved in breathing.

Weight loss

For me, losing weight will help my lungs. If I have less weight to carry around, there will be less demand on my lungs. Weight loss becomes more urgent.

De-stressing

I believe it was prolonged stress that brought this disease to my lungs. That means it’s up to me to do all I can to reduce stress in my life. Yoga classes, my own daily meditation and enough sleep: all of these join in healing the physical body.

Many-pronged healing approach

Since body and mind are inseparable, efforts to heal need to engage both. Embrace whatever medical treatments you’ve decided on and work in  partnership with all your helping agents. I hope this discussion proves useful to you or to someone you know.