Holiday Blues

Holiday Blues

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, at least it’s supposed to be! No one wants to be around a ‘Grinch’ as the holidays approach. Even so, there was a time that I couldn’t help but roll my eyes the moment I walked around my local super market and noticed Christmas décor already overtaking the garden section. Unlike the general consensus, I was one of the strange ducks that didn’t leap for joy once candy canes and holiday cheer graced every store shelf. Christmas songs on the radio were quickly scanned over and mustering the energy to decorate a tree was at the bottom of my list.

My inner Christmas villain had not always been my heart’s default. In fact it had nothing to do with a dislike of jolliness and everything to do with heartache. A few years ago, I lost my two year old nephew in a tragic and sudden event. His absence had a way of resurfacing deep rooted feelings of grief, regret, and lots of ‘what if’s’ around the holidays.  As a child and family counselor, I had to learn a lesson that I often teach – I was not alone. There are many clients I’ve worked with who experience significant emotional challenges as the holidays approach. However, navigating this time of year, after the loss of a loved one is hard no matter who you are.

Christmas time in our culture has become a season of giving and receiving. Things and experiences are vying for our attention. However, Christmas and death are opposites. While the festivities around us focus on receiving, death on the other hand is about having something taken away. There is nothing superficial about the grief that follows the loss of a loved one.  But grief, if we let it, can give something back. Experiencing grief does not mean that we have to only be worn down by our pain.  Rather, by letting grief do its work on us, we can become increasingly filled up with compassion, more aware of life’s richness, more able to help others, and more able to help ourselves.

To anyone dealing with the loss of a loved one:  I have a wish for you.  May you enjoy what you can enjoy, endure what you must endure, and leave the rest for another year. This is one of those times I wish I had a magic wand to make everything better, so everyone could enjoy the holidays without any issues. I also wish I could give a straightforward answer as to the best way to handle the holiday season, but this is what I have found helpful:

  • Stick to self-care basics: Eating, sleeping, and maintaining hygiene may seem like a simple task but when you’re grieving, it can be a challenge. If you make small goals for yourself, start with the basics. It will make a world of difference when you can approach the day with fuel and rest.
  • Acknowledge your feelings: It really is ok to not be ok. It’s normal to feel sadness and grieve. Forcing yourself to be happy just because it’s the holidays will likely bring more stress and unmet expectations. Give yourself grace. Take time to cry and express your feelings. If you can verbalize your feelings yet, expression can be found in many outlets such as music, drawing, or writing.
  • Mark your loved one’s presence or absence: Set a candle, a photograph, a bouquet of flowers, or anything that may symbolize their presence at the table or in the home. Go through photographs of them. Your Christmas cards can even thank extended family for their support during the final days. Whatever it is, have something to encourage that they will not be forgotten.
  • Take people up on offers to help: Whether its food, driving you somewhere, or simply being present, allow yourself to be surrounded by those who genuinely want to be there for you. Company at times will do your heart some good.
  • Get physical exercise: If you exercised prior to your loss, try to maintain the same routine. If you did not exercise prior to your loss visit your doctor before embarking on a physical exercise routine. Physical exercise can improve the way you feel.
  • Reach out: If you feel alone or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. These groups and social settings can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
  • Take a breather: Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
  • Some options may include:
    • Taking a walk at night and stargazing.
    • Listening to soothing music.
    • Getting a massage.
    • Reading a book.
    • Seek professional help if you need it: Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for more than a few months and begin effecting other areas of your life, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. I personally, would be honored to walk alongside you and help in any way I may.

About Erin:
Erin earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Arlington focusing on Psychology, Communication, and Social Work and her Master’s degree in Professional Counseling from Amberton University. She has a passion for counseling children, adolescents, parents, and individuals with an array of emotional, behavioral, social, and relational challenges.

Eating Well for the Holidays

Eating Well for the Holidays

EATING WELL FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Many of my clients find the holiday season to be a challenging time of year, I completely get it. There have been times in my life where I have found them challenging as well. Years ago, the holidays would be a time of over-indulgence in food and alcohol, and a significant increase in inflammation and my waistline.

From about mid-November through New Year’s we are inundated with food, drinks, parties, and big family dinners – we often don’t have direct control over the food and beverages that are served. When you combine it with the stress, anxiety, and the emotional ties these foods have…this time of year can bring added inflammation and a few extra pounds to our bodies. I believe this realization is why so many people wait until after the holidays to get started making positive changes in their health.

The three most common problems lurking during this festive time of year are related to over-indulgence in booze, not being present in your body, and guilt.  And rather than tell you all of the science behind why you shouldn’t over indulge and what it does to your health, let’s focus on a few common problems and solutions to add to your wellness toolbox this holiday season.

The good news is, despite not being in control of what is being served to you over the holidays, you ARE in control of your body and what you put in it. I officially grant you permission to be in charge of YOU!

Common Problem: Look at all the deliciousness! I must eat it all! OR Granny worked so hard on this, it would be rude not to clean my plate.

Solution: Whether the emotion behind this is reliving your childhood treats, nervousness around family or friends at a holiday gathering, or guilt that creeps up about someone working so hard on this meal…know that there are 3 important steps here: give up, be present, and give in.

1. Give Up. Give up on unnecessarily restrictive diets, killer cardio plans, crazy body wraps, silly shake programs, counting points-carbs-calories, and Herba-Plexus–Level-Thriving-mess…well you get it. These are Band-Aids at best, they simply temporarily mask the trouble. They NOT solutions. These overly restrictive plans especially this time of year lead to stress (and cravings and over-indulgence) and nutrient restrictions (and cravings and over-indulgence). Not to mention a whole host of other health problems.

This is not a license to give up necessary restrictions, for example do not eat gluten or dairy if you have leaky gut. It IS license to have a banana or some honey or even a piece of dark chocolate if you like. It IS license to STOP counting. And most of all, it is license to get in touch with your body.

2. Be present. Being present in your body is crucial to avoiding overindulgence (anytime, not just in your holiday pants). Stop, take a breath, ask yourself, “am I physically hungry?” If you aren’t hungry, a simple “no thanks, I’m not hungry” will be perfect.

A common question I get is, “how do I know I am physically hungry?”

Physical hunger is hunger for fuel. It doesn’t occur based on time or social circumstance.  Physical hunger isn’t urgent, it comes on gradually. Physical hunger isn’t picky, it can be satisfied with any type of food. Physical hunger allows you to stop eating when you are no longer hungry. Physical hunger causes satisfaction and not guilt. Physical hunger has physical signs like a growling stomach growling or energy levels dipping.

Spoiler Alert: If you are craving a particular food…you aren’t physically hungry. By pausing and shifting into being PRESENT you allow the moment to identify the cause (stress, anxiety, fatigue, joy, sadness) and find an appropriate non-food solution for it.

3. Give In. Yes, you read that right. Give in to the dish/meal. If you are physically hungry, just freakin’ give in!

Have that pumpkin pie and be FULLY present with it. When you are fully present while you are eating, you AREN’T double-fisting food into your mouth…you are taking a bite at a time, savoring the textures, the flavors, the smell, the sensations.

If you opt for the less healthy treat, then remember the Law of Diminishing Returns. The first bite is bliss, the second bite is really great, the third bite is good…by then you don’t need anymore.

Check in after about every 3 bites, especially if you are new at this. Be present and see if you are still physically hungry or if the treat is as magnificent as the last bite. Once the pleasure return has diminished, push the plate away.

Common Problem: I had a few too many last night and now I feel awful and I am craving lots of starch and sweet stuff.

Solution: This is common, many people crave carbs or sugars after having a few too many adult beverages. Alcohol is processed in our bodies through similar pathways as sugar, so a single glass of red wine or a single serving of a quality liquor over ice generally won’t trigger a hangover or the snowball of cravings in the following days…indulging in multiple drinks or high-sugar drinks like beer or mixed drinks is a recipe for not feeling well and having trouble getting back on track.

The easiest solution here Is not to overindulge. And there are a few ways to do this. My very favorite is sparkling mineral water or club soda with a twist. Sipping on this at your holiday soiree is usually enough to keep the peer pressure at bay.

If you did overindulge and its already too late, ease yourself out of it by rehydrating your body with water all day long the following day, add a squeeze of fresh orange and a pinch of pink Himalayan salt in each glass. This will help your cells put all of the incoming hydration to good use and keep your insulin leveled off and your need for fries or sweets to a minimum.

Common Problem: I saw this article too late, I have already over-indulged on food and/or booze.

 Solution: Be gentle with yourself, and begin self-care. Choose to forgive yourself, grace over guilt. You can’t change the past, make optimal choices for your body, mind. and spirit NOW, in the present. Be gentle with yourself, recover and get right back on track. Take a gentle yoga class to kick start your body’s detox process, get outside in nature to renew your spirit and reduce inflammation, indulge in a massage to reduce your stress.

Remember, a little mishap doesn’t mean you have to give up and start over. One food, one meal, one over-indulgence (even a handful), don’t wait to start over, begin fresh in the very next moment.

Coping with Anxiety at Holiday Parties

Coping with Anxiety at Holiday Parties

Holidays are approaching, and the party invitations are beginning to arrive. You want to be there with your friends and family but the anxiety sets in right as you step through the door. Social situations tend to bring up a lot of feelings and anxieties that we aren’t normally focused on. Feelings of self-consciousness, fear, loneliness, etc. all seem to pop up when everyone else looks like their having a great time (spoiler alert: it is normal and natural to feel anxious in social situations – others are probably feeling the same way). With your anxieties suffocating you like a tacky holiday sweater, it’s easy to think to yourself, “I shouldn’t have let them talk me into this.” But the reality is, you do want to be there and have a good time (you wouldn’t have come if you didn’t want to)!

So, here are a few suggestions to help get you through the event and maybe even enjoy yourself:

  • Go with a friend! Entering the room with a buddy seems to lessen the punch of anxiety and stress.
  • Smell good with a little dab of essential oil: pick one with a calming effect like lavender or maybe a blend like Balance or Serenity that helps you breathe deep and take the edge off.
  • Eat a healthy balanced meal with a good protein before heading out (salmon is a good choice).
  • Limit your alcohol consumption. While alcohol may seem to help you feel “fearless” at first, it is easy to get carried away – leading to potentially anxiety inducing situations. Also, once the serotonin levels resume their normal levels, the anxiety returns. Listen to your body and trust yourself. And always drink responsibly.
  • Exercise earlier that day. It will release natural endorphins and boost your self-esteem. Plus, it’s a good conversation starter about the yoga studio you are going to.

While we can’t promise any of these are an all-out cure for anxiety, walking into a situation prepared with the right tools can make a world of difference. So, get out there and enjoy the party!

Pose Breakdown: Wheel

Pose Breakdown: Wheel

Wheel pose looks pretty cool right? I have memories of childhood tumbling when I see and practice wheel. It’s one to work towards often to increase upper body strength and spine mobility. Even though it looks cool it is inaccessible to many people. Wheel pose requires a lot of power and flexibility in the entire body, upper and lower. It also requires substantial warm-up and loads of concentration.

Just because of the requirements list, many can stray from it, or not find it accessible enough even to try to work on it, this is where, as with most things in yoga, props are our friends!

Here’s how to do it:

Start by lying flat on your on your back, step your heels as close as possible to your sits bones, knees tented up. Ensure your feet are hip distance apart and parallel to each other. It is hard to see on yourself, but feel that your knees are aiming between your second and third toes.

Next, elongate the spine and ensure it is neutral, tip your pelvis towards the floor until your lower back begins to curve away from the mat.  

Then place your flat hands (as if carrying pizzas) on either side of your ears, your fingertips should be pointing towards your shoulders, wrists are parallel to the back of your mat. Hug your upper arms toward each other until they are parallel, your elbows pointing straight back.


Avoid rounding your shoulders, press your shoulder blades into your back and encourage the chest to expand and lift.  

When you are ready for lift off, press down through your hands and feet, and lift up onto the crown of your head. This is a midpoint—and a stage you may need to repeat for weeks or months, holding for several breaths each time, before you can lift all the way up while maintaining safe and strong alignment. In this shape, make sure that you continue to root your hands and feet into the earth. Maintain your knees forward between the second and third toe and continuing to push the elbows back. Keep your shoulder blades pushed into your back and continue to broaden your chest.

The next step is to lift your head. You are going to do more pressing down to accomplish this. Press more, rooting through your hands and feet even more, bring your arms and lets slightly closer to straight. Once your head is up, hold this for several breaths. Avoid scrunching the spine by energetically reaching both the tailbone and the crown of the head toward the floor and away from each other. I like to think of yoga poses as shapes, and here we are a parachute with air beneath it. Your spine is creating a smooth and gradual rather than sharp curve. Keep your thighs and arms parallel as you push through your hip and arm pits.

When you’re ready to be flat on the ground, try to avoid a crash landing and maintain the parallel alignment while descending. Start by tucking your chin to your chest and lower slowly and slightly towards the back of the mat. This will keep your alignment. A good way to check this is to see if your hands are back by your ears as they were when you started.

Here’s where I see people get a flat tire in wheel pose:

 

  • Waiting until the end of your practice. The best place for wheel is right in the middle, allowing sufficient warmup time and ensuring you aren’t overtired from a rigorous practice.
  • Feet too far from your rear end.  This makes it harder to push up. Move your feet as close as possible to your sits bones.
  • Thighs or arms or both aren’t parallel. Our joints are happiest when they are stacked because we can better access and support them with our muscles. If you aren’t able to hug your thighs or upper arms in to a parallel position, try using a strap around your legs or arms or both to enable this alignment and access this strength.
  • Dumping or sickled wrists. If this hurts your wrists at any point, or they feel “collapsed” you can modify this by using blocks under you hands, either flat or angled on the wall to decrease the sharpness of the angle. Alternatively, you can also go to forearms if you have the shoulder flexibility.

The caveat to wheel is that many people don’t realize there are options to practice and make it accessible, so that you can get the benefit of wheel without full expression of the pose.

Option 1: (bolster)

Start with a bolster lengthwise in the center of your mat. Sit on the edge of the bolster, and lie back on to the bolster, with your head touching the floor.  Tent your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. This may be plenty for you, especially if you have a sensitive back, or wrist or shoulder injuries. This shape will still provide a backbend and beautiful shoulder opening.

Option 2: (bolster)

From Option 1, place your hands on the floor next to your ears, with your fingertips pointing towards your shoulders. Remember to maintain parallel arms and thighs (even with the help of a strap). Press firmly into your hands and feet and lift your glutes off the bolster, pushing your pelvis into the air, like you’re in bridge pose. Stay active throughout your entire body as you stay here for a few breaths.

Option 3: (bolster, 2-3 blocks or yoga wheel)

For this option, you will build a platform with the blocks and bolster to support you in wheel.  Elevating your body allows you to express the pose while requiring less strength.

Start by placing the blocks on the flat sides underneath the bolster. Be sure to evenly space them to support the length of the bolster. You can increase the height by adding additional blocks or utilizing a yoga wheel.

You will start by sitting on the edge of the bolster with your feet flat on the floor. This will be a little tricker with the height, so tuck your chin towards your chest and slowly roll onto the bolster, don’t be afraid to use your hands for stability getting down there.

Place your hands beside your ears, fingertips towards the shoulders. Remember to maintain parallel arms and thighs (even with the help of a strap). Press firmly into your hands and feet and lift your glutes off the bolster, pushing your pelvis into the air, like you’re in bridge pose. This time continue pushing through your arms and shoulders (and feet) and feel your upper back and maybe shoulders blades push up off the floor, maybe even until the crown of the head rests (gently – not bearing weight) on the floor

Lift up onto the crown of your head. This is a midpoint—and a stage you may need to repeat for weeks or months, holding for several breaths each time, before you can lift all the way up while maintaining safe and strong alignment. In this shape, make sure that you continue to root your hands and feet into the earth. Maintain your knees forward between the second and third toe and continuing to push the elbows back. Keep your shoulder blades pushed into your back and continue to broaden your chest.

Keep your thighs and arms parallel as you push through your hip and armpits and your head lifts off too. Once your head is up, hold this for several breaths. Continuing to straighten the arms and legs. Avoid scrunching the spine by reaching through both the tailbone and the crown of the head toward the floor and away from each other.


When you are ready to come down, tuck your chin to your chest and slowly lower from your elbows, lowering a vertebra at a time all the way down to your tailbone.

Remember that any point is a stopping point and you can remain active throughout your body and breath in that shape.

To get off the props in any of these options, roll to the side to roll off of them, or tuck your chin and use your core to sit up.

The key to wheel is to just keep practicing. When you find your maximum shape, whether that is the full expression of wheel, just finding the proper placement before lifting off, or somewhere in between–practice it a few times, with proper alignment, and stay there a few breaths. Strength builds in layers, and before you know it you will be there.

Pose Breakdown: Child’s Pose

Pose Breakdown: Child’s Pose

Child’s pose…either the most comfortable reprieve from your practice you’ve ever experienced or the most odd and uncomfortable, possibly even suffocating thing you’ve done. Today we are going to fix that.

Balasana, or child’s pose, packs lots of benefits whether you are working through the traditional expression of the pose or one of the modifications you will learn below. It quiets the mind, improves digestion, it elongates the lower back, opens the hips, and reminds us that resting isn’t a bad practice.

Here’s how to do it:
Start in tabletop, on all 4’s. Knees and hips stacked, as well as shoulders and wrists. Now bring your toes together, keeping your knees in line with your hips. This may be far enough apart for your knees for you to be comfortable or you may need to spread your knees wider, or bring them closer together, either is fine.

Next sink your rear towards your heels, and lower your forehead to the mat. Arms can be outstretched in front of you with palms down for a more active pose, palms up for a more restorative pose, or arms down at your sides.

So where does this turn into an uncomfortable suffocation station and what to do instead:

  • Knee trouble/pain. If your knees are bothering you or you just don’t have enough room to lower your rear to your heels, try placing a blanket or bolster between your calves and the back of your thighs to provide extra support.
  • Head doesn’t reach the ground. Instead of hanging your neck or sitting in unsafe alignment, consider stacking your fists under your forehead to provide support, blocks also work great for this.
  • Booty in the air. It takes time for this to come down, sometimes it happens in the same practice and sometimes it takes weeks or months, help to ease the booty down to the heels and experience more low back release by placing a block under your forehead.
  • Can’t breathe/suffocation station. Sometimes this happens because our balance isn’t quite right, and our faces are smashed on the mat, and sometimes it’s because we are proportionally larger on top and there just isn’t room. The block trick, placing a block under the forehead helps with both of these.
  • Looking for more of an outer hip stretch. The further apart your knees are, the more inner hip opening you will experience, the closer together your knees are the more outer hip opening you will experience.

Take these tips to heart so that you can enjoy the benefits of child’s pose in your practice.

Accessible Yoga

Accessible Yoga

“Accessible” has become a buzzword in the Yoga community recently. I’m pleased more awareness is being brought to the need to make Yoga something anyone can do, but what exactly does accessible mean? As with any popular word, it can mean myriad things.

The word accessible often brings to mind folks with physical disabilities, including those in wheelchairs. Wheelchair and chair yoga, and yoga using the wall and other props, is generally an important part of a class labeled “accessible”. That said, every class can and should be accessible to people with varying levels of physical function. Most of us have some level of physical pain, and some part of our body that doesn’t quite work optimally. Honesty with yourself and your teacher will make your yoga class safer regardless of where you are at physically on a given day. Remember – your physical ability can vary greatly day by day (and even at different times of the day). If you’re feeling stiff, grab a block. If you need to use a chair, or if your teacher suggests it, give it a try. Self-awareness combined with an aware teacher can make any class accessible.

Another growing area of awareness in the Yoga community is creating classes accessible to those who have experienced trauma and those struggling with anxiety and depression. As with physical pain, awareness of your triggers is key. Accessible classes (again, this should be all classes) allow an opt out for touch. Lighting levels, music, and certain poses (especially child’s and down dog) may increase anxiety or even cause a panic attack. Understand that this is common and seen frequently in classes, and don’t feel shame if you need to excuse yourself or take a different pose.

Accessibility is near and dear to my heart as an occupational therapist, and this is a topic I could write a long essay on. The most important thing to take away from this blog is that all yoga classes can and should be accessible. Know yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need and hold your teachers accountable for providing it. Yoga is beneficial for all.

Laura Mitchell 

Our goal is that EVERY class here at Pure Synergy is an accessible yoga class, but sometimes, it’s nice to have a specific class where you feel safe and confident. That’s where Chair Yoga comes in! This class is one of my personal favorites because of how versatile it is. Here’s what Andi, our resident chair yoga teacher, has to say about it:

“Chair yoga is extremely beneficial for people with limited mobility or even for those who want to practice yoga at their desk. It’s also perfect for new yogis looking to understand more about yoga as we often break down alignment for poses such as Warrior II and Tree Pose. It is so important for EVERYONE to get moving! Inactivity becomes a vicious cycle and it gets worse as we continue to age. We feel stiff and sore and decided that we cannot move because it hurts. The lack of movement then becomes the reason why we feel so stiff and sore!

Chair yoga can be modified to suit a wide variety of physical conditions and limited mobility. It is an excellent exercise for seniors, those with injuries, or disabilities. Benefits include maintaining strength, flexibility, and balance in a controlled, safe, environment. It can help them regain freedom and learn more about mind body connections.

I always encourage students to listen to their bodies, use modifications, and back off of any poses that they feel are too much. People often leave chair yoga saying they feel stretched out and generally better than they did before they came in. I hear regular students discuss how they notice simple daily tasks around their homes, things as simple as reaching to grab something, become easier when they regularly attend chair yoga classes.”

Andi Fitzgerald

So, come on in and join us for class!