Tag Archives: grieving

Some very simple coping and mental wellness tips

Hi all! In the wake of horrific national and world events of late, I’d thought could share some wisdom from my years of a mental health professional. These are a few tips that have helped me cope and my clients cope with ill feelings. Some work better than others depending on the person.

One: remember nothing is permanent. This is a staple of Buddhist teaching, but applies just as well to everyone. No matter how bad things are, they will change. The flip side of course is that if things are going well they will change too. The important lesson is to not be too attached to whether things are good or bad and just see them for what they are.

Two: statistical regression toward the mean. Sounds like a crazy geeked out math concept, but in reality things cannot be extreme for very long. The tendency is for nature to regress toward the middle or towards stasis. If things are extremely bad, the tendency is for them to go back towards the center. Again if things are extremely good, the same thing will happen. The “SI (Sports Illustrated) curse” is a good example. If someone is on the cover of SI, then tend to fall from grace as one cannot maintain extreme greatness for an extended period of time according to statistics.

Three: do what needs to be done. Even during extreme grieving, people can still do dishes, take out trash, feed pets. It isn’t as easy as when things are good, but doing what needs to be done can distract us from our ill feelings and still give use a sense of order in our chaotic lives.

Four: lower your expectations. Say like you get some bad news like a medical diagnosis, or lost friendship. Give yourself permission to not be your “best” while you are grieving, going through treatments, or taking care of grim business. By not trying to meet some high standard, you can allow yourself to be human and heal.

Five: take a media fast. When I read that special interests are using Facebook to divide the fabric of our culture, I take that as a clue that this is a toxic medium. In behavioral psychology, the most powerful behavioral schedule is the “intermittent behavioral schedule.” Examples are a slot machine and of course, seeing who “liked” your post on Facebook. It is a highly addictive medium. Studies are showing you have a decreased self esteem the more time you spend on Facebook and other social media. See if you can survive a day without Facebook and you will see what I mean. Try to limit your Facebooking to special interests instead of seeking controversy. Or get rid of it all together.

Lastly: say no. Saying no is perhaps the hardest thing to do for people as we want to please everyone. Saying no to things you don’t want to do frees up a lot of psychic energy. Saying no allows others to plan accordingly as you have given them a direct response.

Bonus: do the obvious. Take the day off. Get the pedicure. See the movie. Cancel the stressful plans. Spend 99% less time on Facebook and social media. And of course, practice your yoga!

Hope this helps some of you.

 

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Just the three of us…the new normal is very normalizing

It has been a tough week of mourning in our household. The quiet is deafening and on the verge of upsetting. We were so used to hearing Luke pacing up and down, using his nebulizer, and then bellowing for a car ride. Now silence. In this silence we all came to a realization: we are now bonded as three people instead of two couples.

Now that my mother-in-law isn’t keeping constant vigil at Luke’s side, it has opened her up to new experiences. We all went for a walk around the block. She talked to neighbors she hasn’t seen for years. All knew Luke and she shared the news of his passing. I can see her brighten up more as she shared more. Then a surprising twist: I asked her if she wanted to come with me to teach my yoga class on Saturday, and she agreed!

So this morning I packed my props in Luke’s old car and put her wheelchair in the back seat. We drove to town were I teach at the base of Diamond Head to Unity Church of Hawaii. She had been here only one other time when my wife and I got married 8 years ago on the grounds.

My wife sat with her while I taught class facing the road leading to the church grounds. My mother-in-law used to run a jewelry shop in Waikiki and was surprised on how much it has changed. The constant stream of tourists, runners, tour buses shaped like Whales, homeless, and the whole other gamut of Waikiki’s humanity passed by.

Some of my students knew about Luke’s passing and word quickly spread in class. After class, my longtime students rushed down stairs to pay their condolences to Toshiko. One of my students, Miho, speaks Japanese which brought great comfort to my mother-in-law.

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As my blogger friend Sonia said, every day gets easier. We took Toshiko on our Saturday “routine” and went shopping at Costco after class. I am realizing that we are consuming 1/4 less and not having to buy as much. That is again simultaneously comforting and upsetting. We all wound up eating lunch at a Korean restaurant. Toshiko dug into the spicy house made Kim Chee with relish. After living on Luke’s unhealthy diet for the longest time, Toshiko is now in a position to make better changes in her diet and health. I am starting to see with a little bit of her cooperation with my wife and I, there is nothing we cannot do together.

 

Working through my grief

I have to say its very difficult to go through the grieving process fresh after a tragic event. There are five stages of grief according to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. As a licensed mental health counselor,  I have guided many of my clients through these steps and saw them go on to healing. For some strange reason, I feel like I am leapfrogging back and forth between the “anger” and  “depression” stages.

I have to admit I’m a bit pissed off at my father-in-law. Not because of all of his aforementioned shenanigans, but because I allowed him to matter so much to me. I actually allowed myself to become attached to his constant neediness. As much as I hated having to take him to the ER in the hospital way across the island every week for the past few months (he refused to go the hospital up the block because of a legal skirmish many years ago), I actually enjoyed some of my quiet moments sitting with him by his bedside. During his past few hospital admits, I took some strange comfort in sitting on the floor and playing bija mantras directed at healing him from my laptop, or saying the Gayatri Mantra and Ganapathy japas to remove his karmic barriers. I know Luke had some heavy karma from his war days. In my power I worked to rid him of it in the best of my limited ability.

The past few days I haven’t even gotten off the couch. I prefer to just sit with my family. Sometimes my wife will spontaneously cry. Sometimes my mother in law will say “I can’t believe it.” Occasionally there will be a phone call or Facebook message from a loved one. As I said before, Luke didn’t have many friends. In some ways I am grateful for that. I can barely be strong enough for my own family now. My mother and stepfather thankfully brought us a home cooked meal last night after we have been living on take out pizza and Chinese food since Sunday.

My mentoring teacher Ray Madigan was good enough to take over my classes for today and possibly Thursday. Ray has many qualities of my father-in-law. He is a no-nonsense tough as nails Aussie who also happened to be a labor and delivery nurse (I see a weird comical cosmic pattern here). He texted me this morning:

Just finished teaching your class. 8 students and a good group. Easy to teach them because they are well trained!

I’m not sure why, but I started sobbing after this text. They were tears of joy. Ray is a tough teacher and does not dispense compliments so readily. He also doesn’t sub, so I take it as a great honor he was able to take care of my students. In Ray’s toughness, he is also infinitely kind in his own unique way that would appear invisible to others who were not initiated. Very much like my father-in-law.

Tomorrow, we have the grim task of deciding what we are going to do with Luke’s remains.  Many miles away from the “acceptance” stage at this point…

My battle within: the request to sub a recently deceased yoga teacher’s class

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A few Sundays ago, I got an email that kept me up all night. It was a request from the president of the other Iyengar yoga studio on the island asking me to sub. There was a catch: the class is for a teacher who succumbed to breast cancer and passed away two weeks ago. Her services were last week.

This request created an internal conflict for me. First of all, I could not even imagine how to approach these students who are bereft of their teacher. The late teacher had taught the class up to two weeks before her passing!

The right thing to was to teach the class. I had known the teacher and she gave many years of service to the community. Yoga Sutra I.4 talks about how sometimes the seer identifies with their mind-stuff agitation and that causes pain. As you can tell, I let my mind go everywhere!

The next task was to design the sequence for the class which is advertised as “Level 1” and is an hour long. The president of the studio requested I do a restorative class, but from my counseling experience (that is what I do for a living) I felt that 10 minutes in Supta Baddhakonasana would only have the students dwell more deeply in their loss.

I considered back bends as they are good for depression. But these students are not depressed, they are just grieving. The first stage of grieving in the Kubler-Ross model is shock. I was shocked when I found out about this teacher’s death as I had known her and saw her looking healthy just a year prior. The students were probably just as shocked because they saw the quick progression of the illness on their teacher.

It is forward-bending week at my studio, and I felt that nothing is better for shock than a forward bending sequence which quiets the nervous system. So my sequence involved a few standing forward bends like Prasarita Padottanasana and Parsvottanasana. I also had them do Janu Sirsasana toward the end finishing in a not-too-long Savasana–remember I did not want them just to lie there and think about their loss.

I arrived at the locked studio 15 minutes early and there were a few students waiting. They did not say much and their body language did not indicate they wanted to socialize. Soon afterwards, the student with the studio key came riding up on her bike–it was my first yoga teacher from 15 years ago! She did not stay for class as she was attending a workshop (thank goodness, as the only thing more stressful than teaching this class, would be to teach it in front of my first yoga teacher).

I started the class with the invocation to Patanjali and informed the students that as an Iyengar community this is how classes begin. Some knew the chant, while others just stayed quiet. The air was thick with stoicism which I could not tell was coming from me or from the students or a little bit of both.

As I started with my first few poses, I even took a few stabs a humor which was met by silence. Ugggh, this was going to be a long hour! I felt much like a comedian who was bombing his act with a hostile crowd. I stuck to the sequence I laid out and got into the instructions. Once I settled into the rhythm of the class, the students lightend up and responded well to my corrections of their poses.

At the end of class I was demonstrating Savasana and had a terrible tongue slip. I said that most people just flop down and “die” in Savasana, and you have to “die formally” by rolling the spine down symmetrically. I grimaced internally at my poor choice of words. But rather than rebuke, the students all laughed heartily. For some odd reason, this was the right thing to say.

After the class, the students thanked me for teaching and commented how good the class made them feel. A few other students stayed back an processed their feelings about the deceased teacher and how traumatic it was for them to watch her deteriorate each week. She had taught the last class in a wheelchair with assistance from another teacher and she could barely talk.

Waiting for me after class was my wife and my hanai niece Sasha. This was supremely normalizing. My niece was happy my wife bought her the “Frozen” dvd, and we all went to the Old Spaghetti Factory for dinner. When I returned home, waiting for me in the mailbox was my diploma signed by BKS Iyengar. Perhaps this was my final rite of passage before becoming fully certified. May my colleague rest in peace and know her teaching has brought peace to many students in her community. I would also like to thank her for the opportunity of teaching her students.

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