Friday, 26 October 2018

A practice for difficult times - by Clare McLusky

This week’s blog has been written by Clare McLusky, trained mindfulness teacher with a Masters in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy from Oxford University. She shares with us her practice for difficult times…

A practice that I have to share because it helped me stay together during a very traumatic period comes from an ancient Buddhist practice to awaken compassion.  It is a simple but transformative practice for staying with painful feelings and for reducing feelings of isolation.  I am grateful to Pema Chodron whose teachings on this, and all things, I find profoundly helpful.

The last year has been a difficult time for our family culminating in a period of crisis at the beginning of the Summer.  Saying the word crisis, I have come to see a crisisas challenge and opportunity and over the years come to trust the process, however painful.  Loss and change inevitably become turning points when we allow life to flow and the opportunity to reveal itself.  But how do we not get stuck in the painful and difficult feelings that are part of loss and change?  We are so programmed to avoid difficult emotions and we all have our particular ways like getting very busy, zoning out, drinking too much or getting very caught up in our heads trying to solve things.  With the latter, I have noticed that the more caught up in my thoughts I become, the more cut off from the world and others I begin to feel.   It is a really isolating feeling which compounds the pain.

As I was going through this period of crisis I was experiencing strong feelings of confusion and fear and an intense sense of loss, but I had to act and make difficult and painful decisions on my own, a long way from home.  I did not have the luxury of falling apart which is why I am so grateful to have had this practice to support me.  The practice is simply this, when you are in pain, breathing it in and thinking of all the other people in the world who are experiencing the same thing.  Then breathing out compassion for yourself and everybody else.  Allowing the in breath to open your heart.  It is a practice to do the right in the moment of feeling overwhelmed by strong emotions whether of sadness, fear, anxiety, anger whatever. A great practice to become familiar with so you remember it at times of need, like waiting for test results or to have an uncomfortable medical procedure. It is described more clearly below.

Things don’t really get solved. They come together, and they fall apart. 
Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that. 
The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: 
room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.

Life is just this way. Sometimes the ‘crisis is the healing.
Pema Chodron

A Practice for Difficult Times

Step One: Breathe in Suffering – yours, others’ and the world’s 

Breathe in for yourself and say these words to yourself, lots of other people are feeling like thisand imagine all the other people in a similar situation.  Acknowledging what you are feeling; the fear, the panic, the tension and this helps to understand what others are feeling.  Breathe in all the pain, all the darkness and heaviness weighing down on you, the suffering, the anguish.  Bravely, breathe it in for yourself and others allowing yourself to open up to it all as though your heart could become as expansive as the sky, giving the pain a lot of space.  We tend to push away pain so know and feel that breathing it in is good for you.

Step Two: Breathe out Compassion – for yourself, for others and for the world

Breathe out with the intention of healing the situation for yourself and others. Breathe out your hopes, best wishes, prayers, dreams. Let each exhale expand light, cool, fresh outward and outward into space.

The idea is to open as you breathe in and to open as you breathe out. That is to say, feel your body relaxing, softening, opening.  The opposite of closing in on yourself and tensing. Keep going as long as it feels helpful.  It may take a few breaths to get into it but let go and keep your intentions focused.  See what happens, be curious and stay with the non-verbal feeling.  I find that thinking of all the other people around the world in a similar situation and feeling the same pain, it becomes less my pain and more the painand easier to open to.  I hope as I did, you experience more compassion for yourself and an opening to your own healing and a greater connection with others.  

We can see that self-compassion is mindfulness; recognising how we are feeling without judging ourselves.  It is self-kindness, being understanding toward ourselves, like we would be towards a good friend.  And it is connectedness, thinking of all the other people in the world struggling and suffering in the same way. 

Friday, 19 October 2018

What to do if you find a lump in your breast – by Sara Davenport

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Sara Davenport, founder of Breast Cancer Haven and Reboot Health blogger, shares some important things to do if you find a lump in your breast….

It’s October, Breast Cancer awareness month and today I am sharing my experiences of finding a lump in my breast and what to do about it. As we all get older, it’s ever more important to regularly check your breasts. The older we get, the more likely breast cancer is to rear its ugly head. 81% of breast cancer diagnoses are in women over the age of 50. But first, how to check your breasts.

How to check your breasts

Today I am flagging the subject yet again, because I have so often repeatedly heard at the Haven, (the breast cancer charity I set up nearly 20 years ago now) the stories of people who found a lump and ignored it and later came to regret it. Or, people who found a lump and went to their doctor, who told them it was nothing, when it turned out it actually was something.

I have only two things to say here.

1. If you find a lump, and it doesn’t go away after a week or so, please, please make an appointment to see your doctor. It may well be nothing to worry about. 80% of lumps are benign - but 20% are something more serious, so be safe and get it checked immediately.

2. Start doing something about it yourself. If your doctor is anything like mine, you may well have to wait quite a few days to get an appointment and there are a few things that can make a difference during that time.

I found a lump in my right armpit about two months ago, and despite being pretty certain it was nothing to do with cancer, I panicked thoroughly for a while before pulling myself together. Amazing how frightening the thought of cancer and its treatment is. Horrible images immediately flood your mind. The lump I found was about 1cm in diameter, hard, and I could feel all round it with my fingers.

I had been swimming in a polluted Mediterranean sea and, logically, I was sure that it was only my body reacting to the toxins, gathering them together in one place before attempting to get rid of them. But I made a doctors appointment nonetheless and then got on with trying to make that lump vanish before I had to go and see him.

I decided it was all about my lymph. Lymph is the clear, water like fluid that flushes toxins from your cells and carries them away. You also have around 500-700 lymph nodes around your body. These act as filters. The lymph fluid moves from one to another, getting cleaned as it moves. They are full of white blood cells (lymphocytes) that trap and destroy any viruses or bacteria that may have wriggled their way past your defences.

The nodes are where you usually first find that lump, in your neck, or under your arm, or in your breast, and the majority of times the swelling is purely due to the battle going on between the white cells and the germs they are attacking. I presumed that that was happening with my lump but I wanted to help the lymphocytes as much as I could, to stimulate my entire lymph system to make sure its army was fighting fit.

I did three things. 

1. Firstly, I bounced. I found my nephew's trampoline and borrowed it for that week while I was waiting. Bouncing stimulates your lymphatic system, which carries away and disposes of the waste around your cells. Anecdotally (obviously is not considered fact by the medical profession), regular bouncing has shrunk, and sometimes got rid of, lumps of all kinds. Even cancer lumps. Worth a shot I thought, and easy to do - and I had also forgotten how much fun it is. Take action, stimulate your body’s own healing system and help yourself heal yourself. That was my theory.

2. I met a very wise American lymphatic specialist once, and she told me that often a breast lump is very tiny to start with but grows larger and larger as toxins and cellular waste attaches to it. She would gently rub around the lump and its surrounding area and find that more often than not, over time, the lump would diminish in size and often disappear entirely.

Breast massage is something we should all do regularly. What we forget is that our breasts sit stagnant all day long in their bras. They are stationary as you sit at your desk. They don’t move much while you are sleeping. Even while you are exercising, doing those daily weights or running on a treadmill, your breasts are firmly constrained so they don’t jig around and interrupt your session. And that’s the point, if they don’t jig about, the lymph can’t move around and ‘flush’ them out. And as a result congestion builds. So, massage your breasts regularly and get that lymph flowing. (See next weeks blog for what to do and how to do it).

I massaged like mad, daily (very gently, obviously, and for about 20 minutes at a time) and found a remarkable difference in the texture and congestion in the area. It all loosened and my hard lump became much softer. The more I massaged, the deeper I could go into the tissue around it.

Then I booked a full body lymph massage, to stimulate the lymph all over my body and make sure they were in fighting form to focus on breaking down my unwelcome visitor. Lymphatic massage is incredibly gentle. It feels as if you are hardly being touched at all, but lymph respond to lightness of touch so don’t underestimate the technique.

3. Lastly, I reached for the colloidal silver, my go-to remedy for all things out of the ordinary. Silver has been successfully used for healing for centuries. If it could heal bubonic plague back in the Middle Ages, along with tuberculosis and leprosy, then modern day problems such as viruses, bacteria, shingles and herpes are a walk in the park for its remarkable powers.

Colloidal silver is a natural anti-biotic and has been shown to affect more than 650 diseases, boosting the immune system and with no side effects of any kind. Compare that to the average six diseases affected by a ‘normal’ antibiotic and I know which odds I go for. My theory was that an unidentified lump would be pretty simple for it to deal with. Especially after all that lymph stimulating which would carry the colloidal silver directly to the root of the problem.

And reader, it did. I went to the doctor 8 days later. Just to be sure, and so he could check more thoroughly than I. But there was definitely no longer anything there, and I walked home deeply relieved. Once again, holistic health had done its thing, proving as ever that conventional and complementary medicine each have a valid role in the process of healing.

One last word here though, again based on the stories and the regrets I heard at the Haven. If your lump doesn’t go away, and your doctor continues to tell you it’s nothing to worry about and doesn’t need testing, please find another doctor, and get a second opinion. And a third if you still don’t feel happy. You know your body far better than anyone else. Listen to it. If it doesn’t feel right to you, it may well not be. Take the management of your health back into your own hands. You only have one body. Who better to look after it than you?

You can purchase Sara’s book, Reboot Your Health, which is currently on special offer from Amazon here.

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Friday, 12 October 2018

Hopes, intentions, momentum and shifts - by Anjana Nathwani

With the recent event of World Mental Health Day on 10th October, Anjana Nathwani discusses the ebb and flow between hope and hopelessness and invites you to a free webinar

Recently whilst mentoring a business owner recovering from cancer related surgery and radiation therapy reached out and said that ‘having hope does not take away the feeling of hopelessness.’ We explored further and the conversation continued to reveal that there was an ebb and flow between ‘hope’ and ‘hopelessness.’  The cycle continued as hope was understood as a dream, and family and friends reiterated hope to ease feelings of hopeless and fear.  It became evident that any hope that is not felt as tangible can feel as hopeless.   

C.R. Snyder defines Hope ‘as the perceived capability to derive pathways to desired goals, and motivate oneself via these pathways.’  In practice this means that hope is goal-directed energy and pathways is the planning to meet these goals.  

Hope can become a reality when the hope has a purpose or intention.  The pause created during the Cancer journey does raise questions on ‘What is the purpose of my life?’  ‘Will I feel the same post chemotherapy?’  ‘What will my energy levels feels like?’  ‘Do I dare to hope about life beyond cancer?’ Answers to these questions reveal themselves gradually and this process can feel lonesome and instigate emotions of hopelessness.
From my own experience, I remember feeling ‘numb’ on several occasions as I made life and career choices post cancer. Defining hope as intention changes the brain the chemistry and all of a sudden a feeling of ‘whosh’ happens that feels like a current going up the spine and a momentum is felt.

Intention helps to give shape to the hope or dream and a sense of knowing that life can be purposeful! This summer during a retreat I my life’s statement emerged:

“My life’s truth is that I can apply the wisdom of ‘real’ experience and know that life can be vigorous, privileged and harmonious.”

I chose the words carefully! Cancer to me was a ‘real’ experience that got me in touch with my inner being  and mortality. As an avid practitioner of mindfulness and present moment focus I very often feel vigorous and energetic. Mindfulness can be theme less contemplation and this creates mental space for freshness to be invoked and create shifts. Shifts are changes in attitudes and for me this feels like a privilege, as LIFE is a privilege.

My client’s feelings regarding hopelessness are valid as just to be hopeful or to be reminded that there is hope without any momentum can be disheartening, particularly when the body’s physical intelligence plays a zig zag game. Together we came up with a daily routine for 21 days to feel and believe that hope can become real and fruitful.  

Key components of the routine are:

I also asked my client to chose a poem that resonated her feelings from:

Hopelessness – Hope – Intentions – Momentum – Shifts, he chose the following!

This being human is guest-house
Every morning a new arrival

Ajoy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if  they’re a croud of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house 
Empty of its furniture,

Still, treat each guest honourably
He may be clearing you
Out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing
And invite them in. 

Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.

Rumi, The Guest House


IKIGAI  Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles
Falling Awake Jon Kabat-Zinn
Power of Intention Dr Wayne Dyer
Psychology of Hope Snyder C.R.

Anjana is going to lead a lively webinar and share her top seven tips on the 'Flow of Hope' on 15thOctober, register for free here.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Why is Yes to Life the first charity to get a logo on my site? - by Philip Booth

This week Philip Booth (My Unexpected Guide; learning from cancer) discusses his recent trip to Guildford Wellness Day and interviews our very own Sue De Cesare…

Cartoon by Stroud artist, Russ
Since diagnosis, just over a year ago, I’ve come into contact with quite a number of the cancer charities through workshops, events and more. Some have disappointed but others have impressed me like Penny Brohn and CancerActive. However in terms of a national charity that provides support, info, funding and a helpline I wanted to start with highlighting Yes to Life. It is a good resource, particularly if new to cancer and Integrative Medicine - as is their book ‘The Cancer Revolution. Integrative Medicine. The Future of Cancer Care” by Patricia Peat.

One of the things I like about the charity is the integrative approach. It does seem extraordinary to me how little attention oncologists seem to pay to Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). A study five years ago found that almost a third of UK cancer patients have used CAM since their cancer diagnosis (i). This figure is similar to the one found globally for prostate cancer (ii). In a talk at the Guildford Wellness Day yesterday Professor Dr Alexander Herzog suggests that up to 80% of cancer patients are looking at CAM. Others have also suggested similar high numbers of cancer patients using CAM.

What is perhaps concerning is that most patients don’t feel able to tell their physicians’ about their use of CAM. Dr Herzog suggests there is a problem of confidence; in part due to physicians lack of knowledge around such treatments and their often negative attitude. Indeed most doctors have had little or no training in CAM - and for that matter in exercise or nutrition (iii).

There are also relentless attacks by media about alternative medicine ‘cancer quackery’; some of it justified. However this has helped create a climate where people feel less able to share with their doctors any CAM they might be trying. 

Sue Cesare, Executive Director, Yes to Life
Interestingly I just read a new blog by Jerome Burne on the Yes To Life’s website about perhaps an even bigger deception by the press (iv). It was revealed in the BMJ that the UK national press had been engaging in a mass Fake News exercise about something called the Cancer Drug Fund. The press reported the exact opposite of the truth suggesting that this Fund was good at approving safe and effective cancer drugs. Incredibly 1.4 billion pounds of taxpayers money was spent on very expensive cancer drugs for no benefit. 

Amazingly there is still no call for enquiries into this shocking story.

As I noted in my last blog a Mind-Body Revolution is coming, but it is slow! Yes to Life and their Integrative approach are part of supporting that move. To me it makes total sense to use both Orthodox and Complimentary approaches, but we all need to consider very carefully the treatments on offer. It is not just CAM quackery, there are also some very dodgy treatments as this Cancer Drug Fund story illustrates.

Here’s Sue De Cesare in the film below introducing Yes to Life. I met her yesterday in Guildford at Surrey’s Wellness Day with it's ‘acclaimed holistic exhibition’ and their series of speakers about cancer. More from that day coming soon to this blog!