How you hold your parents matters. When you judge, disrespect, or reject one or both of them, you are doing the same to yourself. Since you are literally of them and from them, it’s vital to your well-being and inner peace to accept them as they are, even if only in your heart.
This truth was highlighted for me recently by my teacher, Mark Wolynn. He cited a Harvard Medical School study that showed surprising correlations between the quality of one’s parental relationships and the quality of one’s health later in life.
In the 1950s, researchers asked 21-year-old students to describe their relationship with their parents using the scale: “very close,” “warm and friendly,” “tolerant,” or “strained and cold.” Thirty-five years later, those same students, now 56 years-old, were asked about their health.
91% of participants who stated that their relationship with their mother was “tolerant” or “strained and cold” had been diagnosed with a significant health issue such as coronary artery disease, hypertension, alcoholism, etc.
45% of participants who reported that their relationship with their mother was “warm and friendly” or “very close” had been diagnosed with a serious health challenge.
82% of participants who stated that their relationship with their father was “tolerant” or “strained and cold” had been diagnosed with a significant health issue.
50% of participants who stated that their relationship with their father was “warm and friendly” or “very close” had been diagnosed with a serious health challenge.
100% of participants who stated that their relationship with both parents was “tolerant” or “strained and cold” had been diagnosed with a significant health issue.
We all know from personal experience that our family relationships have a big impact on our childhood development. These statistics point to the fact that that impact actually lasts a lifetime. Implicit, as well, is the life enhancing value of compassionate completion with our parents at any age.
When I say compassionate completion, I mean that you realize that whatever you blame them for was not personal. You are able to see your parents as flawed, traumatized humans, like yourself, who did the best they could with what they received from their parents and life events. You accept that they cannot give what they didn’t get and that you got enough. You don’t try to change what was, you simply decide to change how you hold it. Your parents aren’t going to be any different, but when you change how you hold them, your relationship with them will too.
Maybe they are available and healthy enough for you, in person, to let them off the hook, thank them for all they did do for you, and enjoy a transformed relationship. Maybe they are passed, or mentally ill, or unsafe to be near physically and you can, in your own mind and heart, complete with them by understanding what they went through and why they behaved as they did. Changing your inner image of them, shifts how you hold them. Having compassion for what happened to them and caring about what they went through will enable you to acknowledge that what they did wasn’t about you, it was about them. When you no longer take what happened personally, you can leave their suffering with them and free yourself from perpetuating unhealthy and unloving dynamics.
I used to hold my mother as selfish and uncaring. Growing up, I could feel she was not seeing me. I took it personally and, as a result, judged and rejected her. We had a polite, superficial relationship at best. Then, through the Family Constellation work, I came to a new understanding of what was behind her behavior. Now, I see her as the one who cared the most. We share a sweet, warm, fun bond that feels like a miracle in my life.
My mother had an older sister who died the same day she was born. The death of their first child, after a seemingly normal, healthy pregnancy, was so painful for my grandparents that they never talked about nor told their later children of their older sibling. Because they couldn’t bear to be with the trauma of her passing, they also couldn’t look at and include her as part of the family. So, my mother looked instead, which is why she couldn’t see me. Understanding that my mother was unconsciously identified with her excluded sibling made so much of what I went through with her suddenly make sense. (Learn more about systemic dynamics and exclusion)
In changing how I hold my mother, I dramatically changed how I feel inside my own life. Opening to the bigger picture allowed me to open my heart to her. With that came a floodgate of love, growth, and healing for me in all my relationships.
1. Physical coordination precedes and lays the foundation for cognitive coordination.
In other words, if you want to develop the mind, you must develop the body. That means multiple sessions daily of movement, play, and exercise. Per Marcia’s testimonial as a parent and a pediatric OT, it was doing the yoga story DVDs twice daily that enabled her son to build the motor skills, focus, and self-control needed for kindergarten. My point here is that regardless of your child’s challenges or strengths, if s/he is difficult, stressed, crabby, withdrawn, anxious, etc., s/he probably needs more physical play. Fun movement is the biologically built-in developer of body-mind-feelings awareness and management. At school, make sure students enjoy 90 to 120 minutes of supervised, instructional gross motor activity as well as outside time. At home, my recommendation is 20-30 minutes minimum every day – just you and your child, one-on-one, whatever s/he wants to do.
2. Mindfulness is a sensory-motor skill.
Impulse control, emotional intelligence, self-regulation and executive function develop as children become aware of and understand what happens inside their own bodies. It is through interactive activity such as exercise instruction and pretend play that they build the inner sensory-emotional awareness necessary for self-control. Per the work of Catherine Rosasco Mitchell and others in embodied, sensory-motor education, we know that children can only access and understand their own perception, character, and relationships by using the feelings/sensations of the body. Play and intentional movement help them grow mindful as well as socially – emotionally competent.
3. To get the benefits, you have to do the practice.
Exercise is a natural mind-body regulator and integrator. Active play causes kids to be less impulsive and more primed to learn by literally building brain cells, turning on the attention system, and firing up the executive functions — sequencing, working memory, prioritizing, inhibiting, and sustaining attention. To realize these effects means you’ve got to actually prioritize and spend more time playing and exercising and less time sitting and on screens. Why? Because intentional movement and playful instructional exercise promote and improve:
Marcia Washington, OTR/L, has been practicing pediatric occupational therapy for 20 years. In 2009, in her hometown of Pontotoc, MS, she launched KidSense, a clinic that specializes in pediatric therapy, includes a sensory motor gym, and serves clients from over a 70 mile radius.
Marcia and her husband, David, have 2 biological daughters, Mattie – 14 and Ella – 10. In 2014, they adopted a 2 year old boy from Poland. Marcia helped Gehrig improve his language and overall motor skills using Rhythmic Movement, Integrated Listening, NeuroNet Learning program and the Alert Program “How Does Your Engine Run.” Yet core strength, posture control and unintegrated reflexes persisted to the point of causing inattentive/impulsive behavior in preschool.
That’s when she started to use Move With Me Yoga Adventure DVDs and flash cards daily. She was so impressed with the results that she wrote us a thank you note. We were so touched that we invited her to speak about her experience so we could share it with all of you.
I just found out that last Saturday, April 30, has been declared National Honesty Day. On one hand, that’s laughable, given our current political climate in which truth and facts are considered malleable as well as debatable. On the other hand, maybe that’s exactly why it’s so important for each of us to take some time to personally explore our own honesty.
Is being truthful with yourself and others an important value to you….to our society? I know we all seem to agree that honesty, and the trust it builds, is the foundation of our relationships and culture but it that just lip-service? I’m asking because I read an article by Hiyaguha Cohen in the Baseline of Health Foundation blog that sites some pretty shocking statistics such as:
In conversation, we’re most likely to lie to our parents (86 percent of the subjects did so), and then to our friends (75 percent).
Mostly, we lie about trivial things that make us look better or that spare the feelings of others. Sure, we’ve all done that. What’s really surprising is how much we do that.
The typical person can’t converse more than 10 minutes without telling a lie. Additionally, the average person lies not just once, but three times every 10 minutes!
Don’t panic. Another study, with 110 participants aged 18 to 71 for a period of 10 weeks, found the average number of lies per person per week was only 11. That still sounds like a lot, right. And what’s so wrong with telling little white lies or exaggerations or strategic omissions that don’t hurt anybody? Turns out, they are bad for your health. Why? Because when we lie, we are withholding from others and distancing from ourselves. The unspoken message is: I’m not safe to be myself. Lying also implies that whomever you’re lying to is also unsafe. Living in an unsafe environment is always stressful and when we lie, we literally reinforce that lack of safety and rob ourselves of the opportunity to experience emotional safety in our relationships.
The prevalence of lying reveals how fearful, manipulative, and defended we are. A 2014 study from the Berkeley Haas School of Business tells us that the impulse to lie in order to protect or gain personal advantage is embedded in the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex region of the brain. So, when it comes to honesty, we are a bit at odds. We’re wired to lie while simultaneously programmed for the love and closeness that grows from authentic connections. The lie response, lying to avoid confrontation, will kick in first unless we consciously override it.
The good news is that, per the American Psychological Association study:
When participants in the no-lie group told three fewer lies than they did in other weeks, they experienced on average about four fewer mental-health complaints, such as feeling tense or melancholy, and about three fewer physical complaints, such as sore throats and headaches. And as an added bonus, subjects also reported reducing the lies improved relationships all around.
Being ourselves requires vulnerability. Being vulnerable is scary. You risk being hurt, misunderstood, humiliated, or hurting someone else, feeling guilty, being rejected. Being vulnerable is also, per Brene Brown, the birthplace of everything we are hungry for.
Now I’m really curious to pay attention to how much I lie. I will be watching for my impulse to fudge the truth in order to smooth things over. I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to be real. I want to learn how to be honest in ways that inspire everyone around me to feel safe to be authentic as well.
The article also affirms the importance of creating an environment in which children feel safe enough not to lie and are not shamed when they do. What they need is our help in understanding why they felt the impulse to lie. Once they can see and name what happened and why they were afraid, they can start to see the larger consequences and create other options. Honesty can only be built on a foundation of self-esteem. We cannot judge dishonesty and make the child who lies bad. Instead, we need to support them in noticing the impulse and feeling safe enough not to. For children to to build both emotional intelligence and healthy attachments, it’s up to us to become mindful about our own lying such that we can help kids navigate theirs.
I started volunteering one afternoon a week at a nearby hospital. Basically, I show up to the pediatric and perinatal units and work with whomever the staff therapist suggests I do. She then introduces me as the yoga – mindfulness specialist and encourages them to take 10-15 minutes with me for a personalized, stress-reducing, mind-body break. Sometimes, I do a little yoga and/or relaxation with a child and /or their parent(s). Mostly, I work one on one with Moms. These women are understandably wound-up and worried. They are fearful and trying to hide it. They are super-stressed themselves while trying to manage everyone else’s stress.
When the therapist reassures them that she will stay with sick the child and gives them permission to go with me to a quiet corner, they usually do so gladly. They know they need to take care of themselves, but they haven’t had the time or the containment to take a deep breath, let alone process their own feelings. So that’s what we do … mindful, somatic self-care and regulation. I meet them where they are and support them with my attunement and guiding words to come into the present, to feel their bodies, to identify with their fluid health, and to observe and allow the sensations of their feelings, thoughts, and emotions. In the process, their systems down-regulate into a slower, more grounded, balanced, and peaceful state.
The therapist and staff at the hospital tell me that I’m making a big difference for everyone, not just those with whom I work. This surprised me at first. But after some thought, I realized, of course. Those women that feel better are then able to set a whole new tone for the entire family as well as the doctors and nurses serving them. Then, I received an email from IPPF with facts about the correlation of women’s health to global health. In honor of Earth Day, I share them. They illuminate the macro effect of what I experience supporting Moms one-on-one at the hospital.
Fact: Women’s health and the planet’s health are inextricably intertwined. There’s a powerful ripple effect that emerges from women’s empowerment: Women are healthier. Children are healthier. Death and disease go down. All as a result of simple investments in basic technologies like condoms, the pill, and prenatal healthcare.
Fact: Scientists from the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health report that improving access to family planning services is the most cost-effective way to address food insecurity and climate change. They estimate that a $9.4 billion annual investment in reproductive health could slow climate change by reducing emissions by up to 29%.
Fact: Global health experts say investing in family planning is a development “best buy” that accelerates efforts to reduce poverty, achieve gender equality, and create healthy and sustainable communities.
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