Holistic Divorce Counseling

Holistic Divorce Counseling Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM. Free support, resources, and comfort for all life's issues and transitions.

Missing what you don’t really want August 11, 2016

 

 

How is it possible to miss something you no longer wanted?

Nyozi Adiche “Americanah”

 

We are hungry for what we have grown out of.

Mirabai Starr “Caravan of No Despair”

 

 

It seems so counter-intuitive to miss something you no longer want, yet it makes perfect sense once you consider the complicated nature of relationships and desires. Since no relationship is ever 100% good or bad, there can be a part of you that wants all the good things back. A part that misses the connection, history, habit, or feels lonely and grief stricken. In addition, that inner balance, between attraction and aversion, shifts in a nanosecond depending on your mood, hormones, blood sugar levels, and state of mind.

 

It is almost impossible to truly want or shun something 100%. Understanding there is, at least, a smidgeon of ambivalence in every preference makes the notion of missing something you mostly don’t want far easier to comprehend.

 

When a relationship ends you mourn for all your dashed hopes, the many fantasies you constructed about your future, and the loss of a constant companion. You don’t necessarily miss the person, in toto, though you will probably miss aspects of them.

 

Mirabai Starr says it well when she says you are hungry for what you have grown out of, as it implies you may not consciously realize you have grown out of it. Yet, the unconscious mind knows and shows you in dreams, not-so-secret longings, physical symptoms, and words that seem to tumble out of your mouth unbidden.

 

The same concept applies when you notice how your habitual ways of perceiving life, surroundings, friends, family, work, etc. get in the way of your deeper joy in the bounty of the moment, of thinking whatever you have is enough. What American hasn’t fed at the trough of longing? Advertising inundates you with desire for desire’s sake, so how could you possibly not crave things you don’t really miss or even truly want? Society trained you to constantly yearn for things and feel dissatisfied with whatever you have or experience in any given moment. This vague longing can easily infiltrate your life and lead to feeling depressed, anxious, worthless, and angry. It’s an easy step to believing the return of your absent partner will fill the void, heal you, and make you whole again.

 

Yes, something is missing. You have experienced a huge loss. Society led you to think you can fill the void with acquisitions and accomplishments. While those feel good in the moment, their joys often fade. Wanting what you have, being grateful for everything, even the sorrows that bring you to your knees, is a more reliable path to inner peace, self-acceptance, and embracing life on life’s terms. It’s the rare person for whom those are achieved and sustained with a new car, new spouse, or new job. Feeling your grief, even your longing, fully is the answer, even though it can seem excruciating in the moment.

 

It’s also easy to conflate missing a specific person who is no longer in your life with missing a fantasy you may have been nursing for years. Those fantasies are fed by the media and the unhelpful tendency humans have to compare their insides with other people’s outsides, which can lead to feeling bereft, inferior, or inadequate. How much grief comes from just thinking your life doesn’t measure up to someone else’s, even if you really don’t want what they have? (See Compare To Despair on this site.)

 

To make things even more complicated, you may not miss the person you divorced or broke up with but miss having a mate, or the companionship. Sometimes, especially when you are triggered and feel grief-stricken, your emotional brain can hijack your pre-frontal cortex where all the higher level thinking happens. This makes it all too easy to confuse a general longing for something indescribable with a specific longing for someone or something, both of which you may not actually want should they suddenly appear.

 

Addiction plays a role in this pattern of desiring, too, as a brain accustomed to craving can sometimes substitute something else to quiet the inner cacophony. How often have you wanted deep connection with another person but chose eating, TV, porn, shopping, drinking, drugs, gambling, etc., instead? You probably didn’t really want those things; yet, if you limit them or remove them from your repertoire you may miss their short-term alleviation of deeper desires for connection, calm, or meaning.

 

Cravings seem to demand satiation. Yet, taking the time to sit with them in non-judging awareness, feeling all their physical sensations, lets them subside. One way to see this in action is to get a piece of paper, pen, and a timer. Number the page from 1-15. On a scale of 1-10, where one is the least and 10 the most, rate your level of craving every minute for the next 15 minutes. You will probably notice slight shifts in their intensity. This proves how you can manage what you don’t like without giving in to your desire du jour, and shows you that your craving was not 100% intense 100% of the time. All things wax and wane, including desires.

 

Like cravings, habits (including being habituated to a relationship) can form quickly.  It takes a certain amount of unhappiness with them to motivate change, and an awareness that part of the recovery process, if you let the habit or person go, is the feeling of missing what you no longer want. Give yourself time. Be patient as you become aware of space in your life where that person or addiction used to be. You can still be hungry for your original longing to connect deeply with another, to feel more alive and whole, or for relief from inner demons. The difference is now you realize there are better ways to accomplish those goals.

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

What Ambiguous Grief Teaches Us About The Lingering Effects Of Loss July 3, 2016

Filed under: Grief and Ambiguity — chocophile @ 12:30 pm
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“I don’t like to use the word acceptance, but I think we can be comfortable with what we cannot solve.”

Pauline Boss, Ph.D.

 

 

Psychologist and family therapist Pauline Boss talks about “ambiguous loss” and the futility of thinking about closure with deep grief. There is no closure, she argues, when you can’t really put a period at the end of the sentence. When you lose someone through a senseless tragedy like 9/11 where there is no body to recover and bury. More prosaically, when you lose someone through divorce, addiction, or estrangement and they are still alive but disconnected from you. In these situations it is common to experience protracted grief and a sense of loss that seems pervasive and on-going.

 

What makes that particular kind of grieving even harder to bear is our society’s tendency to sweep sad and unpleasant things under the rug with the harsh and inherently blaming comment, “Aren’t you over that already?” No one fully recovers or gets closure if their child commits suicide, or their husband is MIA, both ambiguous losses. They are able to go on because they find meaning in life.

 

As a society we could all help each other by recognizing the lingering effects of grief, all grief, not just the ambiguous kind, and stop pathologizing anyone who still grieves years after a divorce or death. Healing happens, but its trajectory is different for each one of us.

 

Certain connections are so deep, like that between a parent and child, that there is no way to fully heal after they are torn apart through death, Alzheimers, divorce, estrangement, or uncertainty (those cases where someone is MIA or a body is never recovered). The least we can offer people dealing with loss is compassion and the refrain, “I am so sorry you’re going through this.” There is nothing you can say to make it better. All you can give is sincere caring, your presence, a hand to hold, or a hug.

 

One of the best ways to go forward if you are dealing with grief is to acknowledge that sadness may always be a part of you; yet, you can still find meaning in life. How you do that depends on your proclivities. It might be crocheting blankets for newborns if you had a miscarriage, participating in one of the many walks or runs for different diseases, sending care packages to men and women deployed overseas, or anything that feels useful to you.

 

Another path to greater peace is through mindfulness. Pay attention to whatever is happening now, whether you are drinking a cup of tea or folding laundry. This deliberate focus can imbue each minute with purpose and meaning. Noticing beauty in the natural world, a painting, music, or someone’s smile is another way of reconnecting with life. In her book Love 2.0, author Barbara Fredrickson says these micro moments of connection can be powerfully felt as love, even among strangers. The smallest positive interaction can infuse your day with a sense of warmth that lifts your spirits and satisfies your need for connection. The trick is to cultivate more of those moments by looking for them and being grateful when they occur.

 

Whatever you feel, the most important thing to do is allow all your emotions and let them carry you into unchartered territory. Then, they can flow through you, as opposed to being stuck inside festering. You might even find yourself understanding the term “sweet grief,” as fully experiencing your grief can feel sweet. It’s still heart rending, but in its depth there is a tiny sense of fulfillment. Perhaps, that unexpected sweetness comes from realizing you loved someone so much and felt so incredibly connected that you are capable of mourning so completely. That ability, to give yourself over to all your emotions, can be amazingly healing. Be brave, your body, mind, and spirit were created to handle all life’s vicissitudes, including great loss.

 

 

 

Suggested reading:

Pauline Boss: Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief

Viktor Frankl: Man’s Search For Meaning

Barbara Fredrickson: Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection

John Kabat Zinn: Wherever You Go There You Are

Pena Chodron: When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

 

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

 

 

 

 

Is Your Depression Really Grief? April 26, 2016

Filed under: Grief or Depression? — chocophile @ 3:16 pm
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The following is a list of symptoms associated with major depression:

 

A persistent feeling of sadness

Loss of interest

Changes in appetite

Decreased energy level

Thoughts of suicide

Anxiety

Anger

Apathy

General discontent

Guilt

Hopelessness

Inability to feel pleasure

Mood swings

Sadness

Early awakening

Excess sleepiness

Insomnia

Restless sleep

Excessive hunger

Fatigue

Loss of appetite

Restlessness

Excessive crying

Irritability

Social isolation

Lack of concentration

Rumination

Weight gain or loss

 

All of these symptoms can also be caused by grief. Why bother differentiating between grief and depression? Because grief is a natural reaction to loss and the accrual of losses as one ages. Depression can be exogenous (catalyzed by external events) or endogenous (come from within, like a mid-life crisis, or existential depression). It can be acute or chronic, mild to severe, difficult or debilitating. The most compelling reason to make the distinction between grief and depression is:  If you know you are suffering from grief your expectations are different from those you might have if you think you are depressed. Grief is a natural reaction to loss. Everyone experiences it, though some with more awareness, compassion, and patience for themselves than others. If you mistake your grief for depression you might take antidepressant medication. Conversely, if you don’t pathologize your experience and recognize it as grief, you could ride its waves.

 

Grief is not a mental illness, even though it may look like one; especially, if you are experiencing complicated grief. Grief can result from obvious life experiences, like death of a loved one or pet, and less obvious experiences, like job loss, diagnosis of illness, a move that takes you away from friends and family, divorce, retirement, and even the natural effects of aging.

 

Another major reason to figure out whether you are dealing with depression or grief is that with depression it is all too easy to create a second layer of feelings such as anger, guilt, anxiety, and even more depression as you think things like:

 

I shouldn’t feel depressed.

I should be stronger and fight this.

I am such a failure.

I will always feel this lousy.

It’s horrible to feel depressed.

I can’t stand it!

 

You can also have secondary issues with grief if you think:

 

I should be over this already.

I hate it when I cry in public, it’s so shameful.

What’s wrong with me?

I’ll never stop feeling this sad and that will be awful.

 

 

The difference is that secondary issues are far more common with depression than with grief because grief is a healthy, human reaction to loss. Any loss, and the accumulation of losses over a lifetime. Depression effects some people, grief effects everyone.

 

Depression typically hides anger. Grief, on the other hand, may shape-shift into anger, but it isn’t usually hiding other emotions. The kaleidoscope of feelings grief can mimic simply appear as they are felt.

 

If you know you have experienced a recent loss, or something has triggered all your losses to coalesce into a hard knot of sadness, remember: grief is a normal, natural process that helps process raw emotions. No doubt, you will feel it physically as well as emotionally; but, this is just one of the ways the body-mind reboots your system. It happens on all levels: emotional, physical, and spiritual.

 

Imagine this scenario: you go to the doctor with a variety of symptoms fearing you have some dreaded disease. She tells you you are healthy as a horse, but you may want to adjust your diet, sleep schedule, work load, and make more time for leisure, nature, and rest. You leave the office feeling buoyant. Why? Because there was nothing wrong. You may have had symptoms and issues, but you are really OK. The same is true of grief. It can feel pretty awful and disrupt the flow of life, yet it’s benign. You’re fine.

 

How can you figure out if you are depressed or dealing with grief? Ask yourself what has recently happened in your life. Write a list of any changes you can think of, both internal and external, over the past 6-12 months. Look at your list. Did you move? Get divorced? End a relationship or become estranged from a family member? Change jobs? Face an illness? Have a sudden drop in income? If so, it is likely you are dealing with grief, not depression. Grief is the consummate shape-shifter and can mimic depression, anxiety, anger, worthlessness, and guilt. By taking the time to truly assess whether you are in grief or depression you can wisely choose a course of action tailored to what is really going on.

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dare to disappoint everyone, including yourself March 14, 2016

Filed under: Dare to disappoint everyone... — chocophile @ 3:27 pm
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Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.

Anne Lamott

 

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen (Inspired by Emerson’s quote: There is a crack in everything God has made.)

 

 

The full title for this article is “Dare to disappoint everyone, including yourself, and vanquish perfectionism, procrastination, exhaustion, and resentment.” I know it sounds like an unattainable task, but bit by bit you will progress and feel more peaceful.

 

Inner perfectionistic mantras, both conscious and unconscious, lead you to do many things you would rather avoid. All those “shoulds” in life, whether for yourself or others, have a nasty way of creating exhaustion and resentment.

 

Perfectionism just loves sparring with its sibling: procrastination. What makes perfectionism so appealing is the illusion that if you achieve some high goal, make a fortune, become famous, or fulfill anything else on your dream list you will be supremely happy while proving to everyone how worthwhile you really are. If only. Those of you dancing to the jigs of perfectionism and procrastination know all too well how achieving something is never enough. Typically, the minute you finish one goal you are on to the next.

 

Perfectionistic behavior is a result of your conscious or unconscious belief you are never enough and nothing you do is ever good enough. It derails almost any goodness by making you feel inadequate or only as valuable as your last accomplishment, and it prevents you from basking in the joy of completing something or fully enjoying someone’s appreciation.

 

Here’s an example of what I call spiritual perfectionism, just to illustrate how sneaky perfectionism can be.  Two people owned a business together and one betrayed and cheated on the other for years. When the woman finally had enough she ended the association; yet, only a couple of months later, was bemoaning the fact she didn’t feel compassion for him as he was struggling with the fall-out from his choices. That’s spiritual perfectionism and an overweening desire to always do the right thing regardless of the cost to her. If you believe you are never good enough, you can torture yourself in novel ways that add insult to injury. First, you endure bad treatment; then, you lambaste yourself for not feeling compassion for the perpetrator. Clearly, no one does this on purpose, but a pattern of taking too much responsibility for others while believing you have to always be better is a hard habit to break. It can be done though, and one way is daring to disappoint yourself and others.

 

While much has been written about perfectionism and procrastination, or as I now like to call them: the twin torturers, I would like to suggest a novel way to overcome them. Dare to disappoint people. This is not done with malice, but from a place in you that is not yet comfortable with healthy self-care, assertiveness, and boundary setting. Of course, good therapy helps with all those issues, and more; but, while you are moseying through the fields of self-knowledge and developing more self-acceptance and self-compassion, a little dose of daring to disappoint people can work wonders.

 

It’s important to distinguish between what you do because you genuinely want to help and what is born from the inner demons of shoulds, musts, and have-tos. Of course, there are times when you might act from a sense of duty. For the most part, those are different. If you were trained to always show up, be super responsible, and never disappoint anyone, pay attention to how that might be limiting you. Often, the habit of putting yourself last leads to burn-out and resentment; paradoxically, undermining all the wonderful things you did to be useful, kind, or helpful.

 

It’s also freeing to allow other people to disappoint you without damning them. Everyone will fall short of your expectations sometimes, and you will fail to meet theirs. Of course, if you notice a pattern of someone continually disappointing you it is probably time to take action. That action depends on how much you value the relationship balanced against how irksome you find their behavior.

 

Last but not least, dare to disappoint yourself and others. Disappointing others feels disturbing until you make peace with your own imperfection and learn to relax into it. How? By starting to believe you are just like everyone else: fallible and human. Striving to be perfect is unattainable and dooms you to feel bad about yourself as you can never measure up to those lofty ideals. Disappointing yourself is a wonderful opportunity to practice self-forgiveness. Of course, there is nothing to forgive yourself for if you have truly come to believe the goal is unconditional self-acceptance, not perfection.

 

Paradoxically, by setting an intention to take the best care of yourself by nicely saying no to things that really won’t make you happier, and accepting your human fallibility, you will have more love, patience and compassion for others. When you continually deplete yourself by saying yes to every request you end up full of resentments. That doesn’t serve you or anyone else.

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

 

Finding solid ground when you lose your way September 27, 2015

 

I got lost but look what I found.
Irving Berlin

 

 

When you lose your way and forget who you are, your beauty, your kindness, your connection to all that is, come back home. There is a trail of breadcrumbs leading to your true self. A self capable of curiosity, creativity, confidence, courage, unconditional self-acceptance, and peace.

 

There is a part of you that can be ok in this world with its mind-boggling contradictions, daily challenges, betrayals, and unanswered questions. You can let it all just be. The knowable and unknowable. Give it a cosmic permission slip to soothe, annoy, delight, or dismay in its myriad ways.

 

Let whatever comes come. It won’t last.

 

You are here for it all. A vessel for experiences. If you woke up this morning there is still space in you for more. When you’re full, you’ll go. Now, just be.

 

Take a moment to let life fill you with its wild buffet: hunger/satisfaction, connection/disconnection, sound/silence, meaning/meaninglessness, joy/grief. They all pass.

 

Be curious.

Be open.

Listen.

Look.

Feel.

Taste.

Touch.

Move.

Pay attention.

You won’t be here forever.

 

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

 

How Abandonment Issues Effect Intimate Relationships August 25, 2015

Filed under: Abandonment's effects on intimacy — chocophile @ 12:12 pm
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“Finally, I decide I am my own case history, and if I don’t dig in to understand what I am doing, I will be spending the years ahead in a vexing pattern of intimacy and abandonment.”

Dominique Browning in “Slow Love”
Dig in is right. Dig in and root around is even more accurate. Of course, merely looking at the past will not excise it, as insight alone rarely leads to change. The intimacy and abandonment issues Ms. Browning refers to are some of the most deeply felt on earth, which gives them the greatest capacity to create suffering.

When do these get tangled together? In childhood. Everyone has some level of abandonment issues. Even a child brought up in the most loving, secure household still felt abandoned when his parents left the house. Babies have no concept of “I’ll be right back.” So, when Mom or Dad left the room they felt abandoned. Quickly, they learned parents will come back, but that primal experience of being left alone, perhaps eternally, is still part of their experience. If your parents divorced while you were still growing up, even if it was amicable, you will undoubtedly have some abandonment issues. Ditto if you were hospitalized as a child. Even more likely if you were outright neglected or abused. (Recent research into trauma has found that abuse by a family member has the potential to create just as much post-traumatic stress as living through a war.)

Though radically different, the capacity for intimacy also develops from birth. Did the baby get fed, held, changed, soothed, and spoken to? If so, there is an inner template for feeling safe. It is almost impossible to have intimacy without some sense of safety. That safety may be internal or external, but the greatest intimacy usually occurs when both coincide.

The ability to open to true intimacy with another is fraught with anxiety, while abandonment scares the wits out of most people. Yet, people seek intimacy even though it carries the specter of potential abandonment. The possibility to truly connect with another is wildly alluring to most humans. Who wouldn’t crave that sense of closeness, safety, and connection?

Trouble appears when your sense of relationship safety is jeopardized. It could be something minor, like your partner saying the wrong thing, forgetting your birthday, or simply misunderstanding you. It could also be something more threatening like finding out your mate is having an affair, emptied out your joint bank account, or really doesn’t want to retire early and spend 24/7 with you. For anyone with abandonment issues small or large events like these can trigger fears of being abandoned again. In relationships, these fears play out in an inability to commit to someone, a pattern of approach-avoidance behaviors, a penchant for starting fights to re-establish space, and any number of creative strategies that dance between the poles of engulfment and abandonment. To someone with these long-standing issues, neither feels safe. One again, the deepest sense of security can be found within.

When you know you can find refuge in yourself your “need” for someone else to be with you and pledge their undying troth is reduced. Of course, people couple up for many other reasons, and being in a relationship can be one of the greatest experiences on earth, as well as a conduit to self growth. However, if it is a hedge against existential anxiety it will probably be a Pyrrhic victory.

The potential for re-traumatization and more deeply embedding abandonment issues increases with each relationship in which you pin all your hopes and dreams on the other person, instead of yourself. Of course, the Disneyfication of society only exacerbates this dynamic, as it historically reinforced the notion that: ” One day my prince/princess will come,” implying that once that happens you will live happily ever after. What a damaging view, as it puts the controls for your emotional health in someone else’s hands.

Developing a compassionate, caring, patient, nurturing, inquisitive relationship with yourself is the holy grail of inner peace. While it is wonderful to have friends and family to depend on, you will always be with yourself. Every minute of every day. Wouldn’t it be incredible to feel safe with yourself?

No one feels 100% safe and sound. It’s impossible. Yet, if you regularly practice some of the following suggestions you will begin to notice a greater sense of inner peace and self-acceptance, as well as an increased tolerance for life’s challenges.

Everyone has different aspects of themselves. There may be a part of you that wishes everyone well, and another part that feels jealous of a friend’s success. You may notice a part that feels curious, and a part that judges or criticizes. Befriending all your parts and approaching them with curiosity and compassion is key to integrating them.

(If this idea interests you, you may want to learn about IFS, Internal Family Systems Therapy by Richard Schwartz. Here is an animated video to get you started: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsJOVs_e1v4. If you want a more detailed explanation check out this video with Richard Schwartz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99HuL_Bk-SU.)

Get therapy if you have been struggling with these issues and not making any headway.

Develop a sense of inner safety by responding to internal alarms of feeling threatened, anxious, angry, depressed, etc. with self-compassion. Kristin Neff’s short video explains them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11U0h0DPu7k.

Watch the ebb and flow of your emotions. Notice how no emotion lasts forever.

Keep current with your inner and outer life through journaling. This allows you to more slowly process thoughts, feelings, and events. It is also a wonderful way of watching yourself grow and change.

Understand your triggers. Triggers to what? To past trauma that has the capacity to flood you with unpleasant emotions. Once you know your triggers you can more easily avoid people and situations that press your buttons.

Listen to lectures on Buddhism. You can start with podcasts by Tara Brach and Jonathan Foust. Pema Chodron’s books and CDs are also marvelous.

Set healthy boundaries with people for what you will and won’t allow, even if it means cutting the toxic ones out of your life.

Create safe practices that help you feel empowered physically, mentally, and emotionally. When you feel stable and grounded in yourself you are less likely to continue any relationship that keeps you swinging between intimacy and abandonment. Some supportive behaviors include: yoga, meditation, journaling to acquaint you with your internal dialogue and repetitive thoughts, relaxing, getting enough sleep, eating well, spending time with the natural world (even if it’s simply looking at the clouds or smelling a flower), giving yourself what you want when you want it (within reason, of course), taking time for friends and family, creating a home that feels welcoming and safe, and consciously balancing work, family, solitude, exercise, and rest.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Breathing: 10 Breaths to Create Joy February 16, 2015

Filed under: Breathing: 10 Breaths to Create Joy — chocophile @ 4:31 pm
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Humans needed to survive in harsh conditions since our earliest cave dwelling days. As a result, our brains got very good at sensing danger. If we had a traumatic event, or even a close call, we had to learn from one experience to avoid those situations and any that looked like them in the future. A great survival skill, not so great for living anxiety free day to day.   To counteract that natural predisposition and create new neural pathways of joy, try the following:   Take 10 slow breaths whenever you are happy.

 

Contentment also counts as happiness, at least, according to the Buddha. Following his example, you don’t have to wait until you are completely blissed-out, everyday little joys are ripe for reinforcement.   When you eat that first strawberry of the season, laugh out loud while reading a great book, notice the birds singing, watch children play, hear your favorite song, try something new and are surprised at how much you like it, get kissed or touched by a loved one, figure something out that eluded you, find yourself happy for no reason, or anything else that floats your boat, STOP and take 10 slow breaths while focusing on your happy feelings. You might even see if you can notice where in your body you sense them and breath into those spaces. For the fullest positive effect cultivate a feeling of gratitude.

 

Our brains are wired to remember dangerous, bad, or threatening situations. It’s called the negativity bias. That ship has sailed, it’s simply how we’re designed. Since neurons that fire together wire together, you can create new neural pathways through this practice. Not only will you feel better in the process, your amped up joy will strengthen your resistance to stress.

 

If you want a more physically oriented practice that helps you access good feelings when you are feeling depleted or down,  try this yogic Breath of Joy:

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

 
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