When slow is the only way to go


I recently had elective hip surgery – it was a long-awaited repair to a torn ligament for something that is often called an “athletic injury”. This term is perhaps overly flattering , frankly, for someone like me who has never been more than a mediocre athlete – better that than an “ageing injury” I guess! This operation will hopefully mean that after 2.5 years of not being able to run or cross-country ski or do many of my favourite things, I may soon be able to get back to vigorous exercise.  This rather prolonged hiatus has been challenging for me – not a terrible, life-altering, drama-filled ordeal – I am well aware of the immense privilege I have to be healthy and otherwise able to move and live my life, but it did mean that I lost, for several years, access to my favourite stress relief activities. There is nothing like being outside on a crisp sunny winter day on a cross-country ski trail. I miss that badly. Or being able to go for a nice long run to clear my head when there is too much on my plate.

Anyhow, now I’m in recovery. The challenge of recuperating from hip surgery is that you can’t move really fast – you have to take your time, walk a few steps when you feel able to, stop when you don’t and, in the first few weeks, you have to spend a lot of time lying flat on your back with some well-positioned ice packs, to let your body recover from the surgery and to allow the hip to heal. You also need to learn to ask for help and allow others to do things for you.

For some people, this sounds pretty idyllic, right? Lie on the couch all day while you are being served? Well, for me, it is very difficult.

My lovely sister-in-law came to help for the first few days after the operation and we had a great time sitting in my living room, chatting, doing our Christmas shopping online and putting the world to rights. But, once she left and I started emerging from the post-operative haze, I was forced to face the reality that my speed was going to be severely curtailed.

I do most things fast – I act quickly, I move fast, I think fast, I talk fast. Ask anyone who knows me – I tend to like having several things on the go at once. I never run just one errand, I usually strike four things off my list every time I head out the door.  And now, all of a sudden, I have become a turtle, someone who has to take a nap after going out to buy a pair of socks.  “Now you can be like the rest of us humans!” said a good friend of mine, which was perhaps a slight exaggeration about my normal speedy state and also very cute and frankly a little bit true. Maybe I do too much because I can. Because that’s how I like life to go.

So, does this mean that I have learned a deep lesson about slowing down that will stay with me forever, even when I am back to full mobility? I can’t promise that. But it has taught me a few things: not to take my health for granted, that maybe pushing myself to get 15 things off my to do list every day isn’t such a great long term plan as I age, and that I have control issues about letting other people do things for me.

Having a bit more down time has allowed me to rest, to pour over some great cookbooks I hadn’t had time to explore (the new Moosewood cookbook is absolutely fantastic, btw), visit with friends I usually am too busy to see, and drink tea on the couch. Maybe going slow(er) is ok after all.





Trauma Sensitive Yoga for Soldiers and Veterans


I worked as a mental health counsellor for a Canadian military base for about a decade. During this time, I saw many soldiers with PTSD – infantrymen, pilots, intelligence officers and other trades, all of whom had been exposed to unspeakable horrors in war-torn countries such as Rwanda, Afghanistan and Bosnia. Many of them struggled with nightmares, anxiety, intrusive thoughts and reintegration into the civilian world. Some treatment modalities helped, some did not. At some point, a new military psychiatrist came into town, and all of a sudden I started hearing of clients being referred to hot yoga and mindfulness meditation (MBSR) classes. This, in the early 2000s, was very unusual in our neck of the woods. Read More

PSA: 5 day retreat with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

Public Service Announcement:

Mindfulness Retreat for Educators with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh – August 11-16th, 2013, Brock University, St Catharines, On.

“We invite you to participate in a mindfulness retreat led by internationally respected peace activist and Zen Master Thích Nhat Hanh and monastics in the tradition of Plum Village, along with international guest speakers from the field of mindfulness in education.

The retreat will be 5 days, from Sunday, August 11 to Friday, August 16, 2013, and will take place at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, located between Niagara Falls and Toronto, and sitting atop the Niagara Escarpment in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It will be fully residential, with all accommodation on campus.

The retreat is a special retreat focused on educators, a unique opportunity for educators to practice mindfulness together and with non-educators. It will include international guest speakers from the field of mindfulness and education.

The retreat is open to all, as we recognize the importance of the greater community in the undertaking of change and support for the education system. At least half the spots will be reserved specifically for those in the field of education and working with young people, including school, college, and university teachers, administrators, guidance counsellors, youth workers and social workers, as well as education students.

Registration is limited and we expect it to fill up quickly. If you would like to be notified before registration opens please sign up for the retreat’s email list.

Lessons learned from the summer of 2012

Hi! I’m back! I hope you have had a wonderful summer so far. I am just wrapping up my summer holidays today, packing up and cleaning the wonderful cottage in the Laurentians where we spent the last month. This morning, I woke up to the call of the loon who graces our lake, made a cup of tea and went out on the deck to watch the morning mist rise up from the water. “This never gets old,” said a friend as we were sitting staring out at the view a few days ago. Our main activity at this place that is full of awe is to sit and watch the lake, the light over the cliffs, the falcons circle the sky, the beavers that hang out on our beach sometimes. That kind of thing. “It’s not exactly hard to be mindful when you are staring at this” said another pal of mine. I will get back to mindfulness in a minute. I am very lucky to have access to such a special place. Thank you to my in-laws, David and Kay for this.

So here are a few lessons gleaned from this summer, in no particular order: Read More

How to Meditate Daily from Leo Babauta

Jon Kabat-Zinn has always said that the most interesting and beneficial aspect of meditation is when we learn to incorporate it into our daily lives: the calm that returns to us, with one breath, while trapped in traffic or in the middle of a difficult client session. In order to achieve this inner calm, we need to develop a regular mindfulness practice. However, there are many stumbling blocks to meditation: not enough time, the “monkey mind” that jumps around and keeps us distracted or preoccupied…The Globe and Mail published an article on “micro-meditations” yesterday (which you can read by clicking here) and a “Tips for A Types who can’t meditate” click here to read. Read More

Learning to Sit and Breathe, and Sit and Breathe…

Those of you who have been to my live workshops have heard this story before:

One day, a few years ago, my son who was about ten years old at the time, came to me looking rather concerned. He said: “Mom, have you ever noticed that we are never in the present moment?” And I said: “What do you mean, sweetheart?” (well, in French but I am translating this conversation for you 🙂 ) and he replied: “Well, I am either grinding the past, thinking of things that made me angry, or that were unfair, or things I missed doing or I am looking forward to or worrying about the future. I am never in the present. Mom, my life is passing me by!”

My son’s comments made me reflect on many things: the hectic pace of our lives, the rare times when we sit and simply enjoy the present moment and the fact that he’s a wonderfully wise old soul.

Let me ask you: How often are you in the present moment?

Many of you are familiar with mindfulness meditation and mindfulness stress reduction (MBSR). Developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn over thirty years ago, MBSR is a holistic mind-body approach that emphasises the importance of practicing daily sitting meditation where we simply sit, focus on our breathing and stay in the present moment.  If you are not familiar with mindfulness, I encourage you to take a few minutes to view Kabat-Zinn’s Youtube videos on the topic. To find them, simply enter “Stress Reduction Kabat-Zinn” in the Youtube search engine. You will see videos entitled “Stress reduction one of 6” and so on.

Sitting and doing nothing other than focusing on our breathing is incredibly difficult at first: many people talk about being distracted by thousands of fleeting thoughts, ambient noises and sometimes boredom. This is completely normal. Jon Kabat-Zinn encourages us to simply refocus on our breath, and gently redirect our minds to the task at hand, without beating ourselves up about the distractions. The goal of mindfulness is not to reach a state where our mind is empty, the goal is simply to be here, right now, in the present moment, and, as Kabat-Zinn says, if you need to bring your mind back a thousand times, then bring it back a thousand times.

In his video, Kabat-Zinn explains the tremendous health benefits of learning to connect with the present moment:

“When I am teaching meditation, we use a tennis ball and just remind people that they can drop into the breath virtually at any time. So it’s not just like when you are doing some kind of formal meditation practice – that’s the least interesting part of meditation: The real interesting part of meditation is that your whole life becomes a meditation – that you’re here for all of it, and you are able to be with it with a little less reaction, a little less judgemental and, in that way, these hidden dimensions and opportunities and options appear to us and we can navigate with much greater wisdom and with much greater self-compassion in our own lives and deal with the full catastrophe of the stress, the pain and the illness that is inevitably going to come up because we’re human and we have bodies and we’re mortal and we are subject to huge forces that we have no control over.”

The incredible power of mindfulness is that once you practice it regularly, it becomes a tool that you carry with you  into all aspects of your life: you can reduce the stressful experience of being stuck in a traffic jam, in a heated meeting or working with an angry client by dropping into the breath.

Jon Kabat-Zinn acknowledges that learning to practice mindfulness is indeed difficult: “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.” How about starting small and trying to sit without doing anything for the next few minutes? Simply take normal breaths, focusing on your in-breath and your out-breath and perhaps closing your eyes if that is easier. You can also visit this website for an easy introduction to being in the present moment: www.donothingfor2minutes.com

Here’s a link to Kabat-Zinn’s first stress reduction video: Stress Reduction 1 of 6


Update: (January 25, 2012)  How timely – I just came across two short instructional videos on various uses of mindfulness that may be of interest to you. They feature Dr Ron Siegel, author of “The Mindfulness Solution.” In one of them, Dr Siegel interviews a physician’s assistant who works in the Arctic. She describes how useful mindfulness has been for her both in her patient work and in keeping herself grounded and reducing her stress while doing challenging work. Another short video discusses times when mindfulness may be contraindicated and a final one discusses anxiety and mindfulness. These videos were produced by NICABM (The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioural Medicine). I subscribe to their newsletter and often find telecalls and webinars that I enjoy on their site. In order to view these, you need to sign up by sharing your email with NICABM but they guarantee that they will not share your email or spam you. Let me know what you think of the videos! Here is the link to register to view them. Just so you know, I have no affiliation with NICABM, nor do I profit financially from sharing these resources with you. Just thought you’d be interested, as I was.







Things that make my day

1. Blossoms on a crabapple tree: I don’t know why, but those blossoms make me ridiculously happy. Are there any signs of spring that you love?

2. Helping people make small changes: I recently got an email from a therapist who reads my blog and who wrote: Re: your blog post on healthy eating, you might be interested to know you inspired me to buy a juicer. I love it! In the words of my 8 year old, “that juicer has changed our life! 🙂

3. Running by a lilac bush and inhaling deeply. Also, seeing those big pink peonies that are currently in bloom in my part of the world. I love them. I remember the first time I ever saw one, after having lived my early years in Northern Quebec. It just blew my mind. They are so over the top. I guess they tap into my “inner peony” – the hidden side that is exuberant and expansive and a little outrageous.

4. A grilled marinated portobello mushroom topped with greek yogurt and roasted garlic. From the Heart Smart cookbook. Hmmm. Delicious.

5. Being able to do a plank for 60 seconds. (hard!) This took about six months of practice.

6. Spending time with my children. I went on a coffee date with my daughter yesterday and she insisted we take a picture of the coffee, above. See why? When the weather is nice, my son and I go shoot some hoops at the local schoolyard every night after supper. Those are special, precious times.

7. Crossing things off my to-do list.

8. Getting lots of emails and no phone calls (yes, that is likely weird for many of you who are swamped with emails, but I love emails).

9. Coming home to find that someone else (aka my partner) has cleaned up the whole kitchen. Thank you!

10. Going for a run before anyone is up, and coming home to a sleeping house.

What about you? What small things make your day?

Compassion Fatigue: How do we lay the foundation for wellness?

[…] by developing the deep sense of awareness needed to care for ourselves while caring for others and the world around us, we can greatly enhance our potential to work for change, ethically and with integrity, for generations to come.

Lipsky, 2009

Last week, I had the honour of co-presenting with Dr Gabor Maté at a workshop organised by Gluckstein Law of Toronto – Dr Maté was doing the bulk of the day, and I was closing the event. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to hear the presentation based on his book “When the Body Says No” a second time – I always find that I get something different out of each time I reread a great book, or hear a thoughtful, inspiring speaker present. In fact, the second iteration is often the one where I learn the most. I can’t wait to have Dr Maté present at the Compassion Fatigue Conference in June.

One of the key messages in Dr Maté’s work is on the importance of self awareness – Read More

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: an Important Tool in Mitigating Compassion Fatigue in Helpers

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a holistic mind/body approach developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachussets Medical Center in 1979. MBSR is “[…] based on the central concept of mindfulness, defined as being fully present to one’s experience without judgment or resistance”. (Cohen-Katz et al, 2005) The MBSR program recommends using meditation, yoga, relaxation training as well as strategies to incorporate these practices into every day life.

Research on the effectiveness of MBSR is highly conclusive: over 25 year of studies clearly demonstrate that MBSR is helpful in reducing emotional distress and managing severe physical pain. In fact, MBSR has been used successfully with patients suffering from chronic pain, depression, sleep disorders, cancer-related pain and high blood pressure. (Cohen-Katz et al, 2005) Based at Toronto’s CAMH, Zindel Segal has developed a mindfulness-based cognitive therapy program for treating depression that has shown to be highly effective.

MBSR and Compassion Fatigue

Researchers recently turned their attention to the interaction between MBSR and compassion fatigue (CF), to see whether MBSR would help reduce CF symptoms among helpers. One study of clinical nurses found that MBSR helped significantly reduce symptoms of CF, as well as helping the subjects be calmer and more grounded during their rounds and interactions with patients and colleagues. (Cohen-Katz et al, 2005) Another study investigated the effects of teaching mindfulness-based stress reduction to graduate students in counseling psychology. The study found that participants in the MBSR program “reported significant declines in stress, negative affect, rumination, state and trait anxiety, and significant increases in positive affect and self-compassion.” (Shapiro, 2007)

Read More