One Idea, One Collaboration: The Voice Heard ‘Round the World

Dr. Deanna Attai, Alicia Staley and Jody Schoger

(L-R): Dr. Deanna Attai, Alicia Staley and Jody Schoger

It’s easy to second guess yourself, to doubt if your idea will work, if anyone will be interested or even care. Sometimes you need a little faith.

I first met Jody in college through a mutual friend. We were all public relations majors at Kent State University. Right away I noticed – and appreciated – her intelligence and refreshing sense of humor. We would see each other on campus, at parties or other events. I never really knew her well, rather, I kept up to date on what was happening in her life through our mutual friend.

After college, Jody and her husband moved a few times, and they finally landed in the Houston area while I remained in Ohio. About a decade ago, we reconnected through LinkedIn. Every once in a while we would share an email or private message to stay in touch. I am so very appreciative of social media, because it allows us to remain current with our network of contacts.

Four years ago, when I knew I was traveling to Houston for business, I contacted Jody to see if we could meet for coffee. We met at the airport a few hours before my plane’s departure. I can honestly say, of all the years I knew Jody, that one conversation was the best we ever shared because we were focused on each other, with no distractions. That’s when she shared with me what she was doing with her life.

As a breast cancer survivor (Jody was in remission when we met for coffee), she began looking at social media as a way to reach other survivors. Through Twitter, Jody connected with Alicia Staley, another breast cancer survivor, who became a collaborator. On July 4, 2011, they hosted their first live tweet chat for breast cancer survivors. That initial tweet chat has grown into a standing weekly chat, helping survivors around the world. Soon, Dr. Deanna Attai, a breast cancer surgeon, would join in on the conversations as co-moderator. The three created a dynamic team, which resulted in The Breast Cancer Social Media (BCSM) community; #BCSM on Twitter. The BCSM community is comprised of patients, caregivers, physicians, researchers, and advocates. While you are celebrating Fourth of July festivities, take a moment to celebrate BCSM’s fifth anniversary on that day!

Here’s the one big idea: To use social media to reach breast cancer survivors with evidence-based education and support. As a public relations professional and gifted writer, Jody began researching and writing articles of interest to women and men who were going through the experiences of surgery, treatment, or remission. Beyond the weekly Tweet chats, BCSM developed into an amazing online community, reminding breast cancer survivors that they were not alone and that their voices were being heard. Jody and her colleagues delivered presentations at medical conferences.

Shortly after we met for that cup of coffee, Jody’s cancer returned. Through it all, she continued to write, post, and share valuable information and anecdotal content about the disease. Her battle with cancer finally ended on May 18. She is now at peace. USA Today contributor Liz Szabo captured Jody’s essence in a beautiful tribute.

What a tremendous gift Jody gave to women and men around the globe. Her legacy of education and support lives on. Because of BCSM, breast cancer survivors receive comprehensive information and the love and support they need to manage the disease. And it all began with one question, one idea, that led to a collaborative, caring online community that is transforming lives.

Jody’s persistent work reminds us of one important message: Don’t ever underestimate the power that you possess…to bring your voice to the world.

 

Need a Reality Check? Take a Hike!

ParkWalk3816It’s easy to fall into complacency in the material world that we humans have created, spending countless hours in front of our computers working, checking emails, or watching videos, or texting or scrolling on our mobile phones. But that’s not the real world. To me, the real world is the one that existed millions of years before we humans arrived. I’m talking about the natural world, the great outdoors. Get off you electronic devices and take a hike!

March is the time of year when Mother Nature teases us into thinking that there is no more Winter weather in the forecast. Every sunny day reminds us that Spring is just around the corner. Yesterday, Mother Nature gave us a gift here in Northeast Ohio: a sunny, 70-degree day. That doesn’t happen very often in our northern state in March. What did I do? I got out and enjoyed a 3.5 mile hike in the Metroparks with its warm sunshine and fresh air.

An article in the New York Times entitled How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain references a study by Gregory Bratman of Stanford University and his colleagues. Bratman has been researching the health of urban dwellers in recent years. His study reveals the health benefits of the brain by spending time in Nature.

Here’s a challenge for you: For the next week, get out in Nature every day for a minimum of 20 minutes. Walk in your neighborhood (if it is relatively quiet) or a nearby park. Get on your bicycle. If you still have snow, cross country or downhill ski. At the end of the week, see how you feel. Compare how you felt before (tired, anxious, frustrated?) and after (relaxed, relieved, in a better mood?) exercise. Be mindful of the quality of sleep you’re getting. Do you fall asleep faster/easier? (I do when I am more physically active). What is your mental or emotional state when your head hits the pillow each night? Is your mind clearer? Are you ready for sleep? Do you wake up more refreshed? Consider how much more approachable and pleasant you will be with office co-workers when you completely change your environment each day.

Nature provides an abundance of beauty and health benefits to you. Invest the time every day to appreciate a completely different environment in Nature, one that doesn’t judge you, one that accepts you for who you are, and embraces you and says “Welcome home.”

A Simple, Powerful Statement

philosophyDecades ago when I tried to wrap my young mind around Philosophy 101, I struggled to understand its inherent polarities, complexities and of course the never-ending string of thought-provoking questions asked by my professor. At 19, I saw the sky as the sky and that was it. I hadn’t yet explored why the sky existed, how far it extended or if a parallel universe existed. Over the years, I have continued my fascination with the field of philosophy and the brilliant minds who have explored – and continue to explore –  inquiry, knowledge and thought.

In recent years, I have enjoyed the various 21-day meditation series created and hosted by Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey. They often include the Sanskrit Mantra “So Hum,”  which simply means “I am.”

Such a simple statement, yet within it lies a vast terrain for contemplation and exploration.

In my professional presentations, I often begin with an engaging kick-off activity that asks audience members to think of a word or phrase that best describes who they think they are. Then I ask them to pair up with another person in the room to describe each other with just one word or phrase, always in writing, never spoken. They do several rounds of this, with different partners, before revealing to each other how other people described them. The activity has the same result: Surprise and delight. People come away from the activity feeling validated. Often their perception of self comes close to what other people perceived. Once in a while there are some differences. The activity drives home the point that perception and reality are not always exactly the same.

People’s responses to this activity reinforce the notion that we are conditioned to believe that we must be validated by others to feel whole and complete. The human brain is designed to “name” and categorize every living being, object or experience. We create and attach labels to every thought and the brain stores that information for future retrieval (if retrieved at all).

While this activity has positive, consistent results, it reminds me that when we are truly whole and complete, there is no need to fill in the blank. We are enough as is. We simply say with immense satisfaction and fulfillment, “I am.”

Are you?

Create A Portable “Zen” Space

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe word “Zen” conjures up images of quiet solitude, peacefulness and mindfulness. When we think of a Zen garden, for instance, we imagine a beautiful garden that evokes that solitude and peacefulness, a place where the mind, body and spirit can rest and replenish. The garden becomes an anchor, a place for focused concentration.

When I traveled to Japan for business more than two decades ago, my business associates and I visited some of the most beautiful Zen gardens and temples in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Whenever my head gets too full, I simply mentally return to one of those gardens for inspiration and clarity.

The beauty of a portable Zen space is that you always have it and can retrieve it as you take one deep breath. If you feel like you are rushing through the day, or your adrenaline is pumping because you are nervous or agitated, do this simple exercise:

With both hands held in front of you, at eye level, palms facing toward you, fingertips touching your thumb, eyes closed, slowly take in a deep belly breath. As you begin to exhale, make an extended sound, “Oh-m-m-m-m,” using up all of your breath while moving your hands down toward your lap to create an invisible curtain in front of you. By the time your hands reach your lap, you will be out of air and sound. It will clear your mind and help you to focus. Inhale and repeat if you need to. If you prefer, you can eliminate the audible “Ohm” sound and simply think the sound as you exhale.

One final question for you: What are the specific benefits that mental clarity could bring to you? List at least a dozen benefits to you.

 

Embrace the Silence

MeditatingWhen the world is requiring more of your mind, body and spirit, take a moment to pause in quiet reflection and embrace the silence. It has become the norm to do more with less, to multi-task and juggle a busy life. Set your mind at ease with just 10-20 minutes a day to unplug, relax, breathe and meditate. In doing so, you will have clarity of focus and deeper intention of purpose.

I was first exposed to meditation in graduate school nearly 20 years ago. My “monkey mind” could never quite stop and be still long enough for me to understand the power of meditation. Back then, I thought I had to have a mystical experience during meditation. Since those early days, I have come to realize that simply quieting my mind and allowing it to become still is all that I need.

Currently, I am participating in two free online meditation programs that I would like to share with you. There is still time to register…they began within the past few days. The first, Manifesting True Success, is co-hosted by Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey. Each year, Deepak and Oprah offer at least one free online 21-day meditation series which is also available for purchase. The second, Meditation for Busy People (don’t you love that title?) features OSHO, a spiritual leader from India, and is offered through the Mentors Channel. The London Sunday Times has identified OSHO as one of the “1000 Makers of the Twentieth Century.”

So the next time you’re engaged in a conversation and someone asks the question, “What’s new with you?” simply say, “I’m learning to meditate” and see where the conversation takes you!

E is for Energize Yourself

Part 7 in this B-A-L-A-N-C-E Your Life Series.

Cradle of lightHave you ever felt like you could not take one step further, do one more task, because you didn’t have the energy to do it? Part of living a balanced life is knowing when to listen to your body when it is hinting – or screaming – that you need to take a break and recharge yourself.

How you get your energy has a lot to do with your psychological type. The work of noted Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung and later the mother-daughter team Catharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, co-creators of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) revealed that we humans get our energy in two different ways. Extraverts who are more outgoing and talkative get their energy from other people and being out in the world. In fact, if they go for a day or two without contact with other people, they feel like they are missing something. Conversely, introverts who tend to be more solitary or isolated re-energize themselves by not being around other people as much. Instead, they choose to find a quiet place for reflection, reading, contemplation or meditation. Introverts are the ones who will frequently say “I’m peopled out and I need some peace and quiet.”

What is the source of your energy? How to you re-energize yourself when you are running on empty? You will know if you are an introvert or extravert by identifying where your energy comes from.

For extraverts, when you need to re-energize, you may throw a party, invite a friend or friends to dinner, take a vacation that includes group activities, like taking a cruise or tour. For introverts, when you need to re-energize, you may take a quiet walk on the beach in the early morning, schedule a self-organized retreat or enjoy a relaxing massage (with no conversation from the massotherapist, of course).

I know what you’re thinking. What if… What if the person you live with, work with or are best friends with is the exact opposite of you? This requires meeting each other halfway and finding a mutually acceptable way to co-exist. Extraverts are the true energizer bunnies. They can go on and on forever. They may not understand why an introvert wants to go back to the room to get freshened up or even take a nap. It’s up to you – whether extravert or introvert – to educate your pals, co-workers and co-habitants what you need to feel balanced. In the end, you will feel better and your friends will be glad you opened up the conversation on the topic.

Have you encountered moments in your life when you had to use lots of energy from your reserves? You were moving into a new house (and became “Super Cleaner Person” for the weekend). You assisted a loved one who was going through the loss of a loved one (and you turned into a 24/7 service person, doing everything from cooking and cleaning to consoling and even running errands). When you got through that period of time, you said to yourself in amazement, “How did I do that?” or “I don’t know where that energy came from…I just did it.” When these experiences come into your life, what moves you through that space and time is intentional energy focus. You are focused on making it through that period by doing whatever it takes. You can adopt this mindset and become more intentional about how you are using your energy each day.

How you move your energy affects your sense of well-being. Every living thing possesses energy or “chi” as it’s called in Eastern traditions. Depending on how you are living your life, your energy is either flowing or is blocked. When your energy is flowing, you feel alive, at peace, connected and everything you do feels almost effortless. You’re “in the groove” of life. On the other hand, when your energy is blocked, you can feel out of balance, conflicted, anxious or frustrated. For every step you take forward, you feel like you are taking ten backwards. Nothing in your life has a rhythm or flow to it. When you recognize this, you can focus on unblocking the barriers and get your energy flowing again. A popular way to move energy through the body is through frequent yoga practice. You don’t have to be an advanced yoga practitioner to obtain health benefits from this ancient tradition. Begin as you would any course – as a beginner – and gradually work your way towards proficiency. An excellent source for helpful articles on yoga and energy work is the Yoga Journal. You may also turn to professionals in your area who are certified to do energy work to help you unblock those barriers.

When you encounter obstacles or barriers that interrupt your energy flow, take the time to ask yourself “What do I need to do to re-energize myself?” and “How can I give my mind, body and spirit the energy needed so that I can prolong my sense of well-being?” Listen to your body. It’s always right.

C is for Connect

Part  6 in this B-A-L-A-N-C-E Your Life Series.

The Creation of Man by Michelangelo Sistine ChapelThe age-old question, “Why am I here?” can be answered with one simple response: To connect…with all living beings. Balance can be found by exploring the external world around you and also the internal world through your thinking and self-expression. The value of deep connection with all living beings ranks among the top pleasures in my life. Sharing a stimulating conversation with a good friend. Serving a family member in need of support. Snuggling with a loyal pet. Here are four ways that you can connect with the world:

Connect to Others. When you connect with others on a deep – not a superficial – level, it helps you to see the world from a broader perspective. Some of my longtime relationships began with a chance meeting which led to an open conversation. I am the person I am today because of the hundreds of people I have met on my life’s journey. Whether they were strangers whom I met on an airplane or people who I met at a business event, there was a magic moment in time and space that we shared in deep conversation. Who is waiting to share a similar moment with you?

Connect Others to Each Other. Some people are born matchmakers who love to introduce people to each other. They see some commonality that the two people share, like the same profession, personal interest or hobby. When you connect people to each other, it positions you as someone who cares about others’ interests, not just your own. The best part of bringing people together is to see what comes of that connection. Were other introductions made? Was a job position filled? Or did a lifelong friendship begin? To think…it all started with you thinking of how certain people needed to meet each other. Who can you connect to each other?

Connect to Nature. If you spend most of your days indoors, take the time – even if it’s just five minutes – to get outside and “get back to nature” as the saying goes. You may live in the concrete jungle, yet, it is not your natural state. Nature naturally strips away any manmade facade and presents itself in its simplest form of beauty. Whether enjoying a simple act like feeling the breeze on your skin or experiencing a moment of spectacular beauty like a double rainbow, from simple to sublime, nature anchors you in the present moment. It reminds you how awe-inspiring nature is. How can you connect with nature each day?

Connect to Yourself. “I feel so disconnected from my life” is a frequent comment made by people trying to keep up with life’s hectic pace. Is that even possible to be disconnected from your own life when you are the one who’s living it? What you feel is a lack of control over what is happening in your life. How do you change that and feel more connected? Invest the time in yourself every day, even if it’s taking just five to ten minutes, to reflect on where you are and what you need right now. When you take the time to connect to yourself, it will help to keep your life in balance. How can you find that deeper connection to yourself?

Imagine that you are interviewing yourself. What reflective questions would you ask yourself? Here are a few starters:

How am I feeling right now?

What is causing me to feel that way?

What would I have to do to feel like I am more in control of my life?

What’s taking up too much time in my life right now that keeps me out of balance?

What type of support network do I need to help me with smaller tasks that eat up too much of my time?

What minor adjustments could I make to feel more in control and balanced in my life?

Now that you are getting the hang of it, add some of your own questions and have that conversation with yourself. You may experience some mini revelations that could lead you closer to living a balanced life.

 

N is for Nourish Your Body, Mind and Spirit

Part 5 in this B-A-L-A-N-C-E Your Life Series.

Public Health Dialogue: mental health and wellbeingOne of the best ways to balance your life is to nourish your body, mind and spirit. Even if you are a selfless person, deriving great joy from serving others, a little selfishness is a necessity to pause and center yourself. You do that by taking care of yourself first – your body, mind and spirit.

Nourish Your Body.  You will often hear an elder say, “Thank goodness I still have my health.” Without your health, you cannot live a full life. Part of that health includes taking care of your body through proper nutrition, hydration, exercise and rest. Take stock of what you put into your body. Healthy dining – and recipes – are readily available and abundant. Most major metropolitan cities and even small towns feature weekly Farmer’s Markets, delivering fresh produce to consumers. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs allow you to purchase a share or half share of a local farmer’s seasonal produce. Farm to table – it doesn’t get any fresher than that.

Now look at what you do to your body. How physically active are you? My father’s generation did everything themselves. They were more physically active completing day-to-day tasks. He mowed the lawn every week. He lived to be almost 88. Today, much physical activity has been delegated to others to do: Laundry, cleaning the house, washing the car, lawn and garden care, interior and exterior home repairs. Back in my Dad’s time, each of those activities brought with it a certain amount of daily physical fitness. Today, that delegation can sometimes mean physical inactivity or complacency.

Last, look at how much rest you need. When you are finished with the day’s activities, are you getting enough sleep? Every person’s needs are slightly different. I learned how to nap when I was in nursery school. The habit of napping carried me through college. It still serves me well today. If you want to know how much sleep your body truly needs, then try this on a weekend: Don’t set the alarm. See how much time your body needs to feel fully refreshed. What new habit will help you to nourish your body?

Nourish Your Mind. Beyond keeping your body physically active, you must also keep your mind alert and active. Keeping your mind active is important to your overall wellbeing, especially as you age. Here are a few of my favorite ways to nourish your mind: Find a quiet place and meditate. Enjoy a stimulating conversation with someone (not just the usual “What did you do this weekend?” question. Discuss deeper issues). Learn something new every day. Activate your right brain (creative thinking, dreaming) and your left brain (problem solving, analyzing). Engage your brain with puzzles and word jumbles. One of my favorite brain health apps is LumosityWhat new habit will help you to nourish your mind?

Nourish Your Spirit. Beyond your human, physical being is your spiritual being, that part of you that puts you in touch with the life force that is bigger than you. Some call it God, Allah, Buddha, The Great Spirit, or simply The Universe. The New Age movement of the 1960s and 1970s pushed open the thinking about blending  science and spirituality to create a more unified, holistic way of thinking and being. For me, the connection to my spiritual side comes from time spent away from any usual day-to-day activities that allows me to spend time alone in retreat and quiet reflection. My greatest spiritual companion is nature. A walk in nature helps to anchor me and remind me about what is most important in life. What new habit will help you to nourish your spirit?

When you invest the time in yourself to nourish your body, mind and spirit, you will live a full, well balanced life.

L is for Laugh and Let Go

Part 3 of this B-A-L-A-N-C-E Your Life series.

Laugh. Comic icon Charlie Chaplin said “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” I agree. Yet many people can go days, weeks or longer without enjoying a good belly laugh. How about you? How long can you last without laughter? For me, I laugh every day.

If the world around you doesn’t make you laugh naturally (like you aren’t blessed with a hilarious spouse, best friend or co-worker), then create your own laughter.

Medical experts have been researching laughter for decades and have found that laughter is an excellent aerobic exercise. When we laugh, both our heartbeat and our blood pressure rise. After we finish a good laugh, usually while we’re taking a breath and letting out a long sigh, the heartbeat and blood pressure drop even lower. In the psycho-neuro-immunology field (it’s a mouthful, I know), research shows that laughter helps boost the immune system.

In his research, Dr. Lee Berk of Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California calls the white T cells that fight infection “happy cells” because they increase when the body experiences laughter, happiness and joy. So even if you are having a bad day, if you can manage to laugh, know that your T cells are happy. For information on the health benefits of laughter, visit the websites of the World Laughter Tour, Laughter Yoga International or Laughter Online University and enjoy several simple laughter exercises with a few videos.

Here are a few quick tips to create more humor in your everyday life:

  • Read the comics every morning.
  • Visit a local comedy club often for a night of laughs.
  • Visit top comedy websites to watch hilarious sketches or clips. Two of my favorites are Comedy Central or Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die.

water-drop-pearls-on-green-leaves-thumbLet Go. This can be a tough one: Learning to let go…of the day, the week, bad feelings…anything that physically or psychologically brings you down or makes you feel anxious. Don’t let things bottle up inside of you. Being able to recall specific memories is a cherished part of being human, yet you could become emotionally paralyzed if your memory keeps dredging up old, negative thoughts. Let it go! The past is the past and you can’t do anything to change it. Accept it and move on. Begin today by letting go of any negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.

The great hatha yoga master Lilias Folan uses a healing breathing practice at the end of each day called Let the Day Go. The practice is done each night to prepare you for a good night’s sleep. It allows you to intentionally exhale out the day and any feelings about the day, and inhale fresh, rejuvenating air to clear your mind, put your body at ease and get you ready for the next day.

What can you do each day to laugh and let go?

B is for Breathe

just-breathe-beach-lgWould you like to add more balance to your life? Let me show you how. Simply remember the acronym B-A-L-A-N-C-E. In the next seven blog posts, I will share with you how to maintain a balanced life. This post begins with B is for Breathe.

“Just breathe.” “Take a deep breath.” You have heard these words of wisdom before. While breathing is a normal function of the human body, you are mostly unaware that it’s happening since it is controlled by your autonomic nervous system. Breathing occurs, on average, from 12 to 20 times per minute. That’s a lot of breathing. The benefit of breathing is to bring oxygen (good) into your body as you inhale and remove carbon dioxide (bad) from your body as you exhale. Oxygen in. Carbon dioxide out.

When you consciously focus on your breathing and extend that breath to your diaphragm (diaphragmatic breathing), it results in even greater health benefits, as illustrated in this Harvard Medical School article. When you find yourself in a stressful situation, diaphragmatic breathing can help to calm you, release tension and get you in touch with your body. You may feel stress when you are doing any variety of day-to-day activities, like preparing for an important presentation, simultaneously juggling too many tasks or caring for everyone but yourself. If you have difficulty sleeping, take in a few deep breaths. With each breath, tell yourself, “I am relaxed.” “I am calm.”

Yoga practitioners master diaphragmatic breathing because it brings healing oxygen to major organs and muscles. To learn more about yoga diaphragmatic breathing, read Dr. Roger Cole’s detailed article, Your Best Breath.

If you want to try something very simple that takes just a few minutes, consider alternate nostril breath or Nadi Shodhana with this short instruction from the Chopra Center.

The next time you feel stressed or out of control, tell yourself, “Just breathe.” Take a few minutes to practice diaphragmatic breathing. Slowly, gently breathe in vital oxygen and send its healing energy throughout your body. Exhale fully to release carbon dioxide. Add movement if you can. Take a short walk outside or simply walk down the hall, around the corner and back. You will clear your mind and feel refreshed.