Sleep class

Beyond Counting Sheep: The Basics of Good Sleep With Dr. Janeen Paul

First offered in 2013, this class is back by popular demand. In it, Dr. Paul will offer information about common sleep problems, and explain the “Sleep Rules” and why we should follow them. Class will include a calming therapeutic yoga practice and guided meditations to prepare the body and mind for sleep. You will receive handouts and a meditation CD for home practice.

No prior experience with yoga or meditation is necessary. Please dress comfortably and arrive promptly, as we will begin relaxing right away. Mats and blankets will be provided.

Class size will be limited to 8 people.  Please call 847-918-8282 extension 0 to reserve your spot today.

When: Monday, March 14th; 5:30 – 6:45 pm

Or Monday, April 11th; 5:30 – 6:45 pm

Or Monday April 25th; 5:30 – 6:45 pm

Where: PRA Vernon Hills Office

Cost:  $30. The fee will reserve your place in class, and is non-refundable.

* Please note, this class is intended for relaxation purposes, not medical treatment, and is not covered by insurance. You do not have to be a patient with Dr. Paul or PRA to join the class, and participation does not imply a treatment relationship.

New Class

Let Go of Stress and Tension
A NEW Class with Dr. Janeen Paul

Stress and tension take a toll on the body and mind, but you can learn to let go and relax. In this class you will be guided through proven stress relief techniques including gentle yoga, deep breathing and guided imagery to experience a state of deep relaxation. You will also learn how to relax on your own in just a few minutes a day using Mini Tension Tamers. You will receive handouts and a CD for your continued home practice.

No previous yoga or meditation experience is necessary. Please dress comfortably to facilitate ease of movement and relaxation.

Class size will be limited to 8 people. Please call 847-918-8282 ext. 0 to reserve your spot today.

When: Monday, October 5, 5:30 – 6:30 pm
Or Monday, October 19, 5:30 – 6:30 pm
Or Monday, November 2, 5:30 – 6:30 pm

Where: PRA Vernon Hills Office

Cost: $30. Fee will reserve your spot in class, and is non-refundable. Please arrive to class promptly as we will begin relaxing right away.

*Please note, classes are intended for relaxation purposes, not medical treatment, and are not covered by insurance. You do not have to be a patient with Dr. Paul or PRA to join class, and participation does not imply a treatment relationship.

Look Past the Mocha

I admit to a certain amount of rationalization when it comes to healthy habits. When I finish a tough exercise class, I almost feel like I “deserve” a sugary coffee drink.  Maybe I don’t consciously decide that I’ve earned it because of my workout, but I don’t feel too guilty drinking my mocha with whipped cream!  It’s like my brain has decided that I’ve met my goal for the day and any decisions after that are considered less carefully, or rationalized to allow me to indulge.

I’m not alone in this type of thinking, it’s how the brain works when willpower is needed to achieve a long-term goal. Let me explain. When I decide to exercise, I am working toward my long-term goal of staying healthy and strong. The planning and decision-making areas of my brain are working hard to keep me on track at the expense of more immediate goals, such as indulging my sweet tooth. But after I work out, these parts of the brain can rest because I’ve done something to satisfy my goal. Then areas of the brain involved in more immediate gratification are allowed their say, and suddenly my desire for a creamy chocolate mocha may be even stronger because I started by doing something virtuous!

So how can any of us achieve our long-term goals and avoid all the delicious mochas in our way? The key lies back in the brain, in that long-term planning area. We have to prevent it from tuning out and turning off when we’ve made a step in the right direction. The best way to do this is to stay focused on our final desired outcome. For example, instead of starting my day with the goal of getting to exercise class, it helps to think of my work-out as one step toward my ultimate goal of staying healthy and strong. When class is over, I can feel good about what I’ve accomplished and still recognize that reaching my goal requires more steps and more good choices. My true reason for working out reminds me that a calorie-laden mocha is not in line with these goals and my willpower stays strong.

If you are also struggling with frustrating willpower lapses, try thinking about goals in a different way. Instead of focusing on the steps along your path, keep your ultimate destination in mind at all times. Frequently remind yourself of it, and picture yourself achieving it. Remember this when you face challenging decisions, it will activate the rational part of the brain that, in my case, wants me to keep moving past the coffee shop and forward toward health and strength.

Mind-Body Connection

“It’s been really busy lately.”  I’ve been hearing that a lot, and, truth be told, I’ve been feeling it myself!  Busyness is a fact of life for many of us, and we spend our days rushing from one commitment to the next without a break in between.  We may think we’re used to the pace, and not bothered by it.  But when was the last time you stopped to check in with your body and see how it’s handling your routine?  Busyness is notorious for distracting us from the wisdom of the mind-body connection.  Ok, that might have come out of left field, but stick with me for a moment.  Have you ever finished a super busy month, checked the last thing off your to-do list, and then gotten really sick?  Or found that while you’re accomplishing everything at work, you have also developed a two Hershey bar a day habit and gained 5 pounds?  That is your body trying to cope with stress.  Unfortunately, it’s doing it without your mind on board.

The mind-body connection is a big topic these days, which is great because health care used to pretty much ignore it!  This connection simply means that the physical body and mind communicate directly and influence one another.  It also means that the body has a lot of wisdom to share about what’s going on in our minds, even unconsciously.  For example, stress can lower the immune response making us more prone to colds or other illnesses.  It can also cause an increase in appetite or craving for sweets, or create aches and pains that aren’t due to injuries.  This is the body warning us of a stress overload.  These signals can be easy to miss or blame on something else unless we actually take time out of our busy schedule to slow down and listen.

The mind-body connection is present in everyone, so you don’t have to learn anything new in order to use it to your benefit.  The first step is developing awareness.  Take small pauses throughout your day to take a few deep breaths.  Notice the quality of your breath.  Is it shallow or deep?  Easeful or strained?  Fast or slow?  All of these are signs that point to the state of your body, and its current response to your circumstances.  If your breath is showing strain, keep an eye on your thoughts.  You may find worry or negative thinking that is starting to affect you physically.  Take a few moments to breathe slowly into your abdomen, lengthening your exhale with each breath.  This will bring you back to equilibrium.  Then reframe your thoughts to address the state of your mind.

Try to pause and check how your body is feeling at different times during the day.  Notice any physical sensations present when you are quiet and thinking, and if they change depending on the content of your thoughts, good or bad.  Check in before going to sleep and upon waking in the morning to notice if your energy level matches the time of day.  If not, examine your thoughts for worries or dread about your day that could be affecting you physically.  All of this information should clue you in to any imbalances that may be present and allow you to make adjustments. It might mean adding in exercise, saying no to more activities, or going to bed earlier.  Let your intuition guide you.  When your body and mind are working in concert, you will know the right path to take.  When things get busy, self-care is often the first thing to get shoved to the back burner, but that only slows us down in the long run.  Take time to foster the mind-body connection, and let it guide your choices toward better overall health.

 

 

 

 

Confession: I Needed a Facebook Detox

There have been so many advances in technology in the last 20 years, it sometimes boggles my mind. I can actually remember a time before Facebook, iPads, and even smart phones. I am very grateful for many aspects of new technology. I can access pharmacology databases to check for drug interactions, download a new library book, find new recipes, and communicate quickly with family and friends. These things enhance my work and bring me closer to loved ones. But when it’s overused, technology can lead to distraction and avoidance. I’m talking about you, Facebook…

Recently, I found myself becoming one of those people who had to have her phone in her hand. When waiting for an appointment, I would mindlessly scroll through Facebook. If I tried to just sit and be silent I would get fidgety and feel bored. I see now that was a big warning sign: my brain was getting something from this activity that it missed when I tried to stop. When I write it out like that, I can clearly see the parallels to addictive behaviors. I felt compelled to be on Facebook, I would put off other things in order to go online, and I felt uncomfortable if I didn’t have my phone with me at all times. Scary.

The new version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) was published last year. This book compiles all the research about psychiatric disorders and gives us a framework for diagnosing these conditions. In the DSM 5, internet addiction is listed in the appendix as a condition needing more research. This was controversial, as many mental health professionals see it as a true behavioral addiction that may require intervention and treatment. I have seen signs in patients (and in myself!) that certain types of internet use can easily become compulsive. There are also imaging studies showing that the reward center of the brain is stimulated by Facebook “likes”, and that dopamine, a brain chemical associated with reward and pleasure, is released when you receive and reply to a Facebook notification. This is same pleasure and reward center that conditions other addictive behaviors. So what can we do?

When I noticed that I was spending too much time online, I decided to remove Facebook from my phone. In fact, I made a decision not to go on that website at all for a while. I can’t tell you how many times I went to click the place where that app used to be on my phone, or opened the website before remembering my decision and shutting it down. And yes, I did feel fidgety and bored sometimes. But I already know the perfect cure for these uncomfortable feelings. When I follow my own advice and use time spent waiting to practice mindfulness and reconnect with the present, I find that this moment is filled with things to observe. I can sit and watch my thoughts, noticing them and allowing them to pass by naturally without getting attached. Or I can do a body scan, noticing sensations in my face, hands and feet. Or I can listen intently to sounds around me, allowing them to arise and fade away like I’m listening to a piece of music. All of these techniques will lead to relaxation, and ultimately a greater tolerance for the discomfort of boredom. Facebook certainly can’t promise that!

I ultimately decided not to eliminate Facebook altogether, because I would miss interacting with some good friends. But, I have had to change my behavior. I won’t add it back on my phone. I check it only once per day in the evening, for a limited amount of time, and I turn it off if I find myself getting frustrated or annoyed rather than enjoying the things I’m reading. If you feel you’re overly attached to technology in some way, consider setting similar guidelines for yourself: block problem websites, set an online timer, and schedule specific times each day to check email and social media. I also strongly recommend turning off all email and website “alerts,” as they only condition us to keep checking. I hope these limits will keep me from getting too involved again. I do think it’s working already, because I left the house without my phone on Saturday. I didn’t even notice until I got home!

New Class!

I will be offering a new class, iRest Meditation for Emotional Balance, in February.  We will focus on the initial steps of iRest, including setting an intention and creating an inner resource, as well as working on emotions.  This will be a relaxing class, designed to help accept and acknowledge emotional states in a safe environment.  Please see the Upcoming Classes page on this website for information on how to register.

Not Just Another Resolution

The new year has arrived, and with it the chance for a brand new start.  Perhaps, like many people you are considering making a resolution.  After all, this is a great time to reflect on the past year and consider some things to let go of that didn’t serve you, or to add some new habits that will enhance your health or well-being. There are many great articles out right now about how to develop good habits or let go of unhealthy ones.  But my focus this year isn’t about exercising more or adding more whole grains to my diet, though both are worthy goals! This year, I want to be more inspired.

Now I know that the world is full of amazing and beautiful things. Inspiration is all around us, but sometimes I feel like I forget to look for it. There may be occasional super electric lightning bolts of inspiration that force us to sit up and take notice. But those don’t come along very often. So where can we find every day inspiration? If I’m paying attention, I can be inspired by the small acts and words of people around me, by the constant changes and transformations in nature, or by the love and dedication of my dog. If I’m not looking at these every day occurrences with open eyes and an open heart, they become the mundane background noise of life. They run together, and life becomes colorless and dull. Uninspiring.

So this year, my focus is on finding daily inspiration.  Without it, I’m less likely to follow through with goals or start new projects anyway.  But with my radar set on being inspired by everything and everyone around me, I know the spark will find me.  Who knows what changes I might make when I spend time each day seeking creative fuel?  If you want to find more inspiration in your life, too, join me in keeping a daily inspiration journal.  Each day I will write three things that were compelling or uplifting, or made me stop and take notice.  I don’t know where this will lead me, but I’m inspired to find out!

The Gift of This Moment

This time of year gets pretty busy. There are family functions, work parties, and school events. I have food to prepare, cards to send and shopping to do. Throw in some unpredictable weather and you have a perfect recipe for holiday stress. Lately I find myself attached to the calendar and to-do list on my phone, checking, adding or marking off items as I go. I’m constantly reviewing what needs to get done, and planning how and when I’m going to do it. I have to admit that I feel frantic at times, because my mind and energy are all wrapped up in what needs to happen next.

I’m starting to realize that the constant planning and thinking aren’t really helping me stay organized. It is actually making me feel more stressed out! When I worry about the next 6 items on my to-do list while I’m doing the first thing, I find myself scattered and distracted. I am not as efficient, and may wander the aisles instead of going directly to what I need. When I have my head bent over my phone to check my list I may even run into something (yes, I’ve done this. Don’t judge…) Multi-tasking is not increasing my productivity, and dividing my attention between this moment and the future isn’t reducing my stress, it’s making it worse.

Many people get to the end of the holiday season and feel like it has passed in a blur. This is because a distracted mind doesn’t notice what’s happening right now. Imagine driving through the beautiful snowy scenery, all the while planning your list for Costco. Someone else in the car points out a brightly decorated tree, and you murmur mmmhmmm without really looking at it. Your mind is somewhere else, so you will not remember this drive later on. This may not have been a particularly memorable moment, but the same thing can happen when we are trying to enjoy ourselves with loved ones. If we aren’t present in this moment, we will not enjoy it fully or remember the details later.

The best plan to reduce holiday stress right now is to return to the present. Mindfulness brings us back to this moment, where we can handle each thing as it comes up without worrying about what comes next. Try these simple techniques any time you feel overwhelmed, disconnected or scattered.

1. Take things one at a time. Do one thing, complete it, then move on to the next thing on your list.
2. Single task. Do what you are doing, and nothing else. If you’re washing the dishes, just scrub and notice the temperature of the water and the scent of the soap. When you get distracted by thoughts or worries, gently let them go and return your attention to your activity.
3. Take time to pause and check in. Take a few moments in silence, just noticing the rise and fall of your breath. If you are out and about, open your awareness to all the sights around you. Notice each and every color you can see. Hear every sound coming into your ears.

The holidays don’t have to be frantic if we take them one moment at a time. Then we can focus on what really matters, and we will remember it all vividly later. This holiday season, take in the gift of the present moment, and enjoy every breath.

Attitude of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is coming just in time this year. I’m feeling the cold weather, it’s dark at 5pm, and there’s a lot on the calendar. It can be easy to get caught up in the challenges and difficulties of life, and focus only on what seems to be a problem. This holiday reminds us to change that perspective and take in what’s good right now. Thanksgiving is about gratitude, after all. In order to offer thanks, we first need to acknowledge all the blessings we have in life. When you get started doing that, hopefully you will find that one day feels too short.

I have written about gratitude practice the last couple of Thanksgivings, and it’s starting to feel like an annual tradition. It is definitely a yearly reminder for me to keep up with my own practice, because it can be a challenge to stick with things, even when they are good for us. And regular gratitude practice is definitely good for us! It improves the mood and promotes compassion, both toward others and ourselves.

This one simple practice also helps counteract the natural tendency of the human brain to focus on the negative. We preferentially store information about threats or danger, including non-life-threatening events such as a negative review at work or mean comments someone made about us once in high school. This is the stuff that usually sits front and center in our memories, ready to come up any time we need to be reminded that the world can be dangerous. We have to deliberately hold onto good things in order to give them space in our minds. The positive focus of gratitude is one way to do this.

Gratitude practice is simple and doesn’t take much time. I like to do it before bed each night, as a way to quiet any negative or worrisome thoughts. Some people prefer to do it first thing in the morning, as a way to set the tone for their day. Choose a time that works well for you, and simply sit or lie comfortably and spend a few moments focusing on your breath. Then bring to mind 5 things for which you are grateful today. They don’t have to be huge things like winning the lottery (although we would surely be grateful if that happened!), the key is to notice and cultivate gratitude for even the small things. Hold each thing in your mind for a few breaths, focusing on the sensations each one brings into your body. Perhaps you feel a warmth around your heart center or in your lower abdomen. Acknowledge your gratitude, then move on to the next item on your list. Finish by focusing on your breath for a few more moments.

This lovely practice may begin to seep into other parts of your day. You may find yourself actively looking for good things and expressing gratitude on the spot. You may notice you feel more compassion towards others, or an urge to offer kindness to a stranger. Try this practice daily for a few weeks and see what you notice. It can become a cherished part of each day, and a way to practice Thanksgiving throughout the year.