Monday, February 24, 2014

A Little About... Veronica Reis, PhD

In April, I will be sharing my passion for working with people with cancer, and training others who want to use yoga as a tool to help those on the cancer journey. When I stepped on this path, I struggled to find information to help me develop my yoga classes, so I began collecting information. Years later, I'm calling on my experts to help me explain what we've discovered along the way.

Veronica Reis, PhD, is a health psychologist, and a registered yoga teacher whose training emphasized yoga therapy and Kundalini yoga. She has been working with people diagnosed with cancer for 13 years, 6 of those years as a licensed clinical psychologist. Veronica will be a guest lecturer in my training program, discussing the psychological impact of cancer. Here's a little more about her:

I have been living with cancer for 20 years

I was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 28, with two recurrences following, and in 2003, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I was on my way to becoming a health psychologist because of my fascination with the mind-body connection; little did I know I would be diagnosed with cancer, with no family history at that time, less than two years after starting my education. My diagnosis only fed my curiosity even more intensely.

I have had multiple surgeries, undergone radiation, and two different types of chemo. I'm fortunate that the breast cancer I had was sensitive to hormones and I am able to take a small white pill each day that minimizes these hormones within my body and keeps the cancer at bay. On the other hand, I am still working on healing from the blow of having lost the ability to have children due to the cervical cancer.

It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I tried my first yoga class. 

It is within yoga that I finally experienced the mind-body connection that had attracted me for so long.

I came to understand that no matter how near or far from a "perfect" pose I am, as long as I go to my edge, I derive as much benefit as the person who can assume the fullest expression of the same pose. That was a huge revelation to this woman who couldn't even touch her toes! I've also learned that Bhakti yoga [yoga of devotion] and Naad yoga [yoga of chanting] are some of the fastest and surest ways to open my heart deeply and fully. I have been studying kirtan [chanting] with Prabhu Nam Kaur for over two years now and attend every kirtan concert I can.

My journey with cancer came full circle when my mother was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.  I lost both of my step-fathers to cancer (esophageal and colon), and my father lives with a form of leukemia, but the privilege of caring for her in the last few months of her life made a deep impact. She was fiercely independent, and being able to share her journey as her caregiver was such a lesson in Life and Death and Healing.

Practicing (even imperfectly!) the eight limbs of yoga - whatever style(s) of asana one practices, can be a wonderfully potent tool for dealing with cancer, at any place in one’s journey.”

Welcome, Veronica. I'm so honored to have her contribute to this upcoming training! If you are interested in learning more about this training, please click HERE. Thank you.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Disappointment Guru

"Expect the worst. That way, you won't ever be disappointed."

Several years ago, my brother was driving me back from a yoga retreat in New Mexico and we had a very candid conversation about our dysfunctional thinking patterns. We both held the above statement to be true, even though we knew it wasn't a healthy one. Because we had realized (separately) that we don't handle disappointment well, we both had created patterns in our lives for negative expectations in order to avoid it. We laughed about it at the time, but in looking back, I believe that was when I set out to change my patterns.

Recently, a video came across my Facebook feed called "Wanting Yes and Getting No," which is not a new topic but the lecture was new to me. In the video, professor Fred Luskin talks about forgiveness, which he defines as the ability to make peace with the word "no." When we expect "yes" but life gives us "no," we resist reality and are upset by it.

When I look back on my patterns, I see that this idea fits perfectly with my understanding of the situations:

I expect my family to be more health conscious, but they aren't...

I go to my yoga studio expecting my class to be available to me, but it's not...

I get on my mat at home, expecting to have some quiet time to practice, but the dogs are barking, the phone rings and the house is cold...

I expect to be able to practice certain poses, but my body is in pain, my mind wanders and my breath is erratic...

I expect my friend's life to be as long as mine, but I'm just told her cancer is back...

In each one of these cases, I observe my reactions to not getting what I expect, and they range from mild annoyance to anger and fear. These are emotions that I know are unhealthy and won't help me in the long run. I need a better way.

Luskin tells us that "the essence of forgiveness is to be resilient when things don't go the way you want." So how can I bounce back from these emotions? He tells us that, after grieving, we can forgive and be at peace with not getting what we want.

For me, the key is to allow that time to grieve, or process, the difference between my expectations and reality. During that time, I try to find perspective by remembering that everything is impermanent and that my intention during this short life is to leave behind an echo of peace.

Depending on the situation, my process time can be decades or it can be moments. I'm learning to give myself that time. I try not to respond to the situation too much before I've processed the disappointment, and what I'm finding is that disappointment is not as beastly as I painted it in my memory.

Disappointment is actually good for me; it is my teacher that reminds me to let go.

Here is a link to Fred Luskin's video: