Transcript of Episode 8: One Breath at a Time – Tips for Mindful Living
Announcer: Welcome to Living with Lyme, the podcast where we educate, advocate, and collaborate about Lyme disease, hear from experts as they share reliable information, about how to live with Lyme disease, and now, here’s your host, nurse practitioner, Cindy Kennedy.
Cindy Kennedy: Hello everyone out there. This is your host Cindy Kennedy. You’re listening to Living with Lyme, and I’m having a cup of tea today with Kate Forest. She is the creator and owner of Self Care Moments. She teaches self-care and mindful living. She’s also the creator of Self Care Yoga. She’s written curriculum for kindergarten through 12 for both teachers and student to improve people’s awareness of self-care and need for mindful living. Welcome, Kate. How’s your tea?
Kate Forest: Thank you, Cindy. My tea is wonderful. Thank you for creating it for me.
Cindy Kennedy: You’re welcome, you’re welcome. Give me some background. Give me some history on you.
Kate Forest: Some history on me. Well, I started practicing yoga and mindfulness about 20 years ago, give or take. Prior to this day of, it was a full day event, probably eight hours of yoga and mindfulness, conscious-
Cindy Kennedy: What is mindfulness? People are going to wonder what is mindfulness? What’s the simplest term of-
Kate Forest: For me, mindfulness is when your body and mind is in the same place at the same time, connected with this one moment of life.
Cindy Kennedy: You’re thinking about it. You’re aware of it.
Kate Forest: I would say you’re aware of it. For me, mindfulness is, I teach what I call the body-mind-breath connection. That day that I practiced these skills for the first time, I had had a history of a lot of anxiety, a lot of underlying anxiety, some depression, some attention issues, and that night after I got home from the workshop, I realized I felt completely different than I was used to feeling. I was focused, I was calm, I was comfortable in my skin, and I knew I had found something that could really help me, something natural, something healthy, and something that could help me to help others.
Cindy Kennedy: When you felt that connection, you savored that moment, you realized it was important for you, you went to bed, and you woke up the next day. What happened? Were you still able to focus, or did you say, “Okay, I’ve gotta practice this.”
Kate Forest: I would say the next day, I realized that this was something that could help me to change my life, and that I needed to explore it more, so I sought out a yoga class, and then within six months, I was in my first yoga and mindfulness teacher training course, and then over the next 10 years, I took three other certifications including mindfulness, self-care, conscious communication, chi gong, so many different avenues and exploration so that I could heal myself physically, mentally, emotionally. It was slow, steady, incremental progress. There was definitely shifts, I noticed, immediately, and here it is almost two decades later, and I’m still noticing these shifts and positive changes. The more I practice, the more I grow. The less I practice, the more I notice the anxiety coming back.
Cindy Kennedy: Why is this important? Take into consideration people who are not feeling well, people who have Lyme disease or people who have other chronic illness, and they’re battling this, and they’re … I’m, was always one to say to myself, “I am not going to become my disease. I am not going to have that as a label,” so I was being mindful about that, but it’s difficult because you, oftentimes, have to battle this alone. How is this related? How can people find a benefit from this?
Kate Forest: Well, that’s a huge question, Cindy, because there’s so many different ways to find benefits from this. I would think that for me and for others, the ability to be okay and comfortable in your skin with you are and how you are and not have these huge expectations and demands on yourself.
We live in a society that is go, go, go, go, go all the time, and if you slow down, if you rest, you feel guilty, you feel anxious, you feel like you’re not doing enough and getting enough done. Especially with someone with an illness, that is a perpetual underlying theme for many of us with a chronic illness. A lot of people don’t understand this, like I need to rest. You need to just leave me be for little while and let me rest, and asking the people in your life, “I need a little space right now. It’s time for me to rest,” and go lay down and put your legs up on the couch or crawl under your covers or take a walk, but this worrying so much about what people are going to think about you?
I’m done with that nonsense. I’m done with that. This is my life. If I’m tired, I’m going to rest. If I want to teach, I’ll go teach. If I need to do something for me, this is my time. I need this. Your listeners need this. We all need to practice self-care so that we have more patience, more compassion, more strength, more energy, more focus to deal with all of our other many roles and responsibilities because if we don’t take care of ourself, we’re depleted, we’re exhausted, we’re bitter and resentful oftentimes, and that’s not how any of us want to live.
Cindy Kennedy: No, it’s not healthy at all. Going back in my time when I really was at my worst, and I found that I didn’t want to become my illness, so I pushed, and I pushed, and I pushed. Now, if I had known what you’re teaching me today, I would have gone to the couch, and I would have rested, and it’s, for some people, we barely can get off the couch. We really have a hard time getting up and functioning, but it is a method of needing to realize what your body needs.
Walk me through this. I’m saying to my family, “Guys. Give me a little time. I’m going to go lay down.” I’m going to lay down. I’m going to be quiet. What should I focus on? What should I tell my body? What should I think?
Kate Forest: Great question. Thank you for asking that one. The body-mind-breath connection that we spoke about a moment ago, there are five principles and 11 skills of self-care and mindful living, as I’ve defined and teach them in my programs.
Principle one is connect to the moment, and skill one is pause and breath. One way to connect to the moment is to give yourself permission to pause and breathe. That’s what you’ve just done. You’ve gone to your room, you’re resting, but you’re not ruminating about all of these things that you should be doing. Your mind is not racing, your mind is not completely quiet and still either because that’s almost never going to happen for any of us, and it’s not-
Cindy Kennedy: Everybody thinks that it’s supposed to-
Kate Forest: Exactly.
Cindy Kennedy: … and that’s wrong.
Kate Forest: I don’t know if I would say it’s wrong, but it’s a misconception. It’s a myth. It’s a myth because our minds think, our minds plan, our minds worry. It’s natural, but can I take those thoughts, can I ask them to pause, can I focus the thoughts on the rhythm of my breathing? Can I notice my in breath and notice my out breath? Can I lay my hands on the front of my body, maybe one on my heart center and one on my belly and just feel myself breath?
It’s engaging our senses so that we can be in this one unfolding moment and not disconnected body from mind thinking about other things, but right here, right now, like you and I are in this conversation, putting the other things on pause so that we can focus on ourselves, on our rest, on our renewal.
It’s not just a way to shut down and numb out because so many of us are used to numbing, whether it’s numbing with drugs or medication or TV or Facebook or whatever it is, work is another way that we numb our emotions, but it’s giving yourself permission to feel what you feel, notice your emotions, notice your thoughts, notice your body so that you can make adjustments, align your posture so you’re more open, you’re better balanced, the breath can get in more to help your mind focus more. There’s just so many physical benefits to pausing and breathing and connecting the body, mind, and breath with this one moment of your life,
Cindy Kennedy: Being that I’m a medical person, I know that if you give your body the rest it needs, and you’re not constantly ruminating and worrying and doing and whatnot, you can help yourself heal. Can you fix everything? No, you can’t, but if you can take that time, it’s certainly beneficial.
Now, we’re resting when we’re breathing, and we’re focusing on our breath, and we’re allowing our body to just rest. Now, people with Lyme have pain. How do you deal with being able to be still, and you’re uncomfortable?
Kate Forest: You don’t necessarily have to be still when you’re resting. I teach these skills in what I call a mindful walking activity where maybe you’re walking down the city street, maybe you’re walking in your backyard, whatever it is, but you’re present. You’re noticing the trees around you. You’re noticing the sounds of the traffic. Your mind is not disconnected and thinking and worrying because it’s feeling your feet on the ground, the breath in your body, noticing the emotions that you’re feeling instead of stuffing them down.
That’s a huge piece of it, so you don’t have to be still. You don’t have to have a quiet mind, but you can practice mindfulness in every single activity you’re doing all day long. When you do that, one thing, when the mind is so busy, and I’m sure you know this, and your listeners know this, it’s so hard to rest when your mind is racing and worrying and planning.
What you do with this body-mind-breath connection is you notice that, and you just say, “Oh, okay, there, I’m thinking about that again. Let me come back to my breath,” or, “Let me feel my feet on the ground,” or, “Let me look a little more deeply into your eyes and notice you more in this moment so that … ” You’re not going to stay there in that one place because your mind is going to go ruminate about something else, and then you notice that, and you bring yourself back again and again and again, and that is the practice.
Cindy Kennedy: That’s great because we’re all under the misconception, as you said, that you have to block everything and anything out, and I know for me, when I was taking a yoga class, and we’re doing that very end, just that nice relaxation before the class is over, I would try to do that, but I would keep finding things flooding into my brain, like, “Oh my God, I forgot to do this. I never took out anything for dinner.” “Oh my God, I have to remember to pick up so-and-so’s birthday card.” It’s a constant battle, but now, what you’re doing is you’re giving me permission to think of these things to be aware of it, but not let it take over that moment.
Kate Forest: Right. One thing I say is notice your thoughts without following the storyline it wants to take it to.
Cindy Kennedy: I see.
Kate Forest: For instance, I had a student in one of my yoga classes once that told me this story afterward. She said … I would cover her up in a blanket, and her thought was, “I really like this blanket.” Her next thought was, “I wonder where Kate gets these blankets? I think she probably gets them in California. I have a friend in California. You know what? She’s really sick. I’m really worried about her.” She went, within 10 seconds, to this beautiful, relaxed state to worrying about a friend who’s dying in California. In like a split second, she was there.
We must be aware of our thoughts and where they take us. I’m not saying watch them like a hawk. I’m saying be aware of your thoughts, be aware of your breathing, be aware of your body, be aware of yourself so that you can make the necessary positive shifts.
Cindy Kennedy: Tell me, though, because I’m perfect example of what you just said. I would say, “I love the blanket. Oh, where she gets that? I wonder where … Maybe I’ll ask her.” How do you break that? What do you do? Your first thought is, “Gee, I love this blanket.” Now, what do you do?
Kate Forest: “Gee, I love this blanket. I wonder where Kate gets it? Oh, there I go again. Come on back, Kate.” That’s one of my mantras, one of my positive phrases. “Come on back, Kate.” I pay attention to my thoughts, and I notice when they’re wandering, and I gently, kindly, and lovingly invite myself back. I don’t say, “You suck, Kate. You’re doing it again. Come on back,” because we’re so harsh on ourselves so often, and we’re so mean.
Principle two is practice kindness to yourself, others, and our world, and our world needs kindness deeply right now, and we need kindness so intensely. If we’re treating ourselves mean and harsh, how are we going to be kind to the cashier we meet that day? How are we going to be kind to the bus monitor that day? How are we going to be kind to our partner?
It’s like, it starts with ourselves, and that’s why my philosophy is self-care is world care, and it’s essential that your listeners give themselves permission to care kindly for themselves, whether it’s 10-second breath-and-pause scattered 10 times throughout their day, whether it’s a 10-minute walk. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. You can scatter these moments, and it’s cumulative, so the more you practice, the more you’re able to come into that restful state of relaxed awareness more often.
Like I said, we’re not asking you to stop thinking. Asking you to notice your thoughts and where they take you in your habitual patterns so that you have more control over them because once I started with thought awareness, I was able to notice more pauses and more gaps within my thinking.
Cindy Kennedy: You stop there at, “Gosh, I wonder where she got the blanket?” and then you center yourself again, and you make yourself aware of your surrounding, what you hear, maybe what you smell, and that’s what you’re concentrating on again, correct?
Kate Forest: Whatever is happening in this one moment-
Cindy Kennedy: At that time.
Kate Forest: … is what you’re-
Cindy Kennedy: I understand now.
Kate Forest: … concentrating on. It’s that engaging your senses, whether it’s while you’re eating, mindfully … There’s a practice called deep looking, like really looking at what you’re eating, thinking about where did this food come from, thanking the many hands and lives that brought this food to your table. This is a way to integrate the practice of self-care and mindfulness versus just sliding into home plate, wolfing down this plate of food [crosstalk 00:16:31] plate-
Cindy Kennedy: And then on to the next task.
Kate Forest: … and then on to the next task, like self-care skill number two, transition with awareness. Be aware of how you’re moving from one experience to the next.
Cindy Kennedy: This is a lot of work. This is a lot of change for a lot of people. One of the other things that I want to ask you about is people who are dealing with chronic illness have been sick for a long time, maybe have just gotten a diagnosis with Lyme or going through a lot of the process of healing, and we do deal with a lot of what’s called die-off. You’re taking your medication, your homeopathy, whatever you’re doing, and it’s causing these bacterial cells to die off, and it releases toxins, and it does affect our mind, it does affect the way we think, it does affect our level of emotion, meaning that someone who has never been anxious, never really been depressed is finding them getting into that situation.
Again, that whole thought process, “Why me? I don’t feel good. I don’t … When is this going to end?” and it just keeps coming and coming and coming. How can we work mindfully to achieve a better balance when all of that is flooding at us day in and day out, weeks, months?
Kate Forest: Yeah. It’s very challenging. It’s very hard, and it’s a practice. It’s a practice.
Cindy Kennedy: It’s one day at a time, and one moment? I don’t even-
Kate Forest: You know what? I don’t even say that. I say one breath at a time. I think the breath, for me, has been the most natural, amazing, miraculous healing tool for me, and it’s not going to be easy, and it wasn’t easy for me.
Whether you have a chronic illness or not, you live in this society, and it’s not easy for any of us to pause and take care of ourselves, but that would be my number one recommendation for your listeners is give themselves permission to pause and care kindly for themselves, and notice their thoughts. If they’re being harsh and judgmental, can they refrain their thoughts to be kinder?
Not in a Pollyannish “life is perfect, nothing’s wrong, everything’s fabulous” kind of way because that’s not real, and it’s not true. We all have pain in our lives. Most of us have pain in our bodies, but what can we do? We can eat healthfully, we can rest our bodies, we can move our bodies. Movement is hugely important for someone with Lyme disease or someone without Lyme disease. We have to move our bodies. Slow, gentle, healing self-care movements.
Cindy Kennedy: Right. Yoga is very, very critical, I believe, for maintaining your flexibility, for improving your joint motion, and to maintain strength. I’m in a better place now, but when I do something a little more challenging, and I’m not talking about running a marathon at all, I’m talking about something very slight, I’ve noticed the changes. That, in and of itself, recognizing that, I do know that I have to work on it, but again, I will go to the negative and say, “Oh, I’m so disappointed in myself that I let this happen,” but I see what you’re saying in, and for myself, I need to take that, change it, and say, “I’m given another day here. I have another opportunity, and let me do X, Y, and Z, because that way, it’ll bring me into a better thought pattern.”
Kate Forest: Yes, and don’t give up.
Cindy Kennedy: Don’t give up.
Kate Forest: Don’t give up. Don’t give into, “This is how it’s going to be forever,” because you don’t know that. This is a current limitation that your body, mind, and heart are experiencing. It may not be a forever thing, and if you give up, you’re going to give up.
Cindy Kennedy: You’re not going to have that next chance.
Kate Forest: You may not. You may not.
Cindy Kennedy: One of the biggest causes of death with Lyme is suicide, and it’s because they just, they can’t break the circle. They see no end, and it’s a sad, and it’s very lonely place to be.
When I saw Dr. Cameron, and he was, who’s a Lyme specialist, and he said to me, “Compare your mornings and your nights,” and it was horrible to try to get up and wake up in the morning. It just was a horribly sluggish time, and then I would round the clock, I would come in to evening, and for somehow, some reason, my body would rev up.
My adrenal glands, my cortisol level was off, so now, it’s night. I need to sleep because you need that rest, and the house gets quiet, and the house is dark, and he said to me, “It’s a lonely place for you, isn’t it?” and I recognized that because I didn’t recognize that before. I didn’t ever think, “Oh. Okay. This is actually a time for me to concentrate on right now,” not to wander off to the point where I’m allowing that anxiety to really perpetuate to the point where it’s keeping me from sleeping, and that’s hard.
My neighbor does a lot of meditation, and she showed me this bracelet that she has. I don’t recall the name of it, but it’s something pause, and you actually design it. It has a little battery component, and you actually press it on. That’ll allow you to set it for every 60 minutes or ever 90 minutes, and it vibrates. It reminds you, A, to be mindful, and B, to take that deep breath.
Throughout the day, every hour and a half, getting a little reminder, and I think that’s a great way to bring attention to people who are having a difficult time or really just getting into this, really trying to practice this mindfulness. It’s a great way to do that.
Kate Forest: It’s a simple way to start. Another one is you can look up an app on your phone. If you do a Mindfulness Bell for an app, you can get this really lovely, beautiful chime to go off every hour or half hour or 20 minutes or whatever you need to set it for, but just get and stretch and move and breathe.
One more thing, Cindy, is I want to, there’s … You’ve asked what can they do and how can I support them. There’s an online course that I’ve developed. It’s called Self Care Moments, and it’s a six-week course guiding you through. It’s got some videos of some self-care movement breaks, very gentle posture, seated in a chair with the breaths, some standing postures, some restful postures, but also mindful living practices. How can I help your listeners to notice their thoughts and refrain their thoughts? How can I help them to ease some of their pain?
This is a very short simple, self-care and mindful living skills, and if they want to go to my website, it’s kateforest.com, and-
Cindy Kennedy: F-O …
Kate Forest: F-O-R-E-S-T, one R, like the trees, so yes, thank you. K-A-T-E F-O-R-E-S-T dot com. There’s also a free three-day self-care support challenge on there, so if they want, they can sign up and receive some very supportive emails three days in a row from me, giving them some specific self-care skills, a couple of the videos, and some breathing, what I call self-care breathing breaks.
Cindy Kennedy: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. You also have a gathering you’re doing this, actually, next month. We’re actually in September here, so in October, we’re in 2017 here. Tell me a little bit about that, where you’re going to hold that.
Kate Forest: That is Saturday, October 21st from, I think the time is 10:00 to 4:00 at the Genesis Spiritual Life Center in Westfield, Massachusetts, and I call those self-care gatherings for women. It’s a full day of slow, gentle, ease-filled movements, breathing, connection. We do a little creativity, journaling, walking in nature, and it’s a very slow day to unplug from technology, to unplug from life as you know it, and just be with some very supportive, warm-hearted, loving, beautiful women.
Cindy Kennedy: This is something that no one … I’m sorry, this is something that someone has never practiced this-
Kate Forest: Oh, absolutely.
Cindy Kennedy: … should consider.
Kate Forest: Absolutely.
Cindy Kennedy: It’s not somebody that has a lot of experience with this.
Kate Forest: Oh, yeah. Oh, absolutely. Beginners and experienced practitioners, they all show up, and it’s a lovely day. Anybody can join us, and I highly recommend that level of depth and self-care to kickstart your self-care practice if your listeners are new to it or if they just want to take care of themselves and be with some really beautiful women.
Cindy Kennedy: How do you teach children?
Kate Forest: Wow, okay. Very lovingly, very patiently. Children are natural, mindfulness practitioners. If you watch an infant, when you ask what is mindfulness, if you watch an infant and watch how they observe their surroundings and how they behave and just really see things and hear things and feel things, that’s mindfulness right there.
Cindy Kennedy: Wow. You have quite a wealth of information, and you are a very calming and you’re a very soothing woman, so you do have a lot to offer. This has been a wonderful discussion with you. Before we wrap up, I do have a couple of questions. As my listeners know, we know that Lyme is not a very, it’s not a silly thing, but we have to be silly and laugh. Best way to enjoy life is to kind of laugh at yourself, but anyways, tell me what ticks you off.
Kate Forest: What ticks me off. Two things come to mind. What ticks me off are women who think it’s not okay to take care of themselves and are exhausted and depleted and feel like they have to take care of everybody else and ignore their own needs. That ticks me off because I know that they’re doing themselves and our world a huge disservice.
The other thing that ticks me off is that people that care unkindly for our planet and our world and don’t take care of this beautiful, amazing, home we have.
Cindy Kennedy: I almost go ballistic when I see someone take something and just throw it on the ground. Are you kidding me? Stuff it in your pocket. Throw it away appropriately. Makes me crazy.
Kate Forest: Well, there’s so many short, simple things we can do to practice self-care, and at the same time, practice world care, and that’s another discussion, but you can so easily take care of our world one, small, simple, doable compassionate action at a time.
Cindy Kennedy: I know. I know. Life offers us a lot of positives and a lot of negatives and we never know why things happen, and I don’t think we’re really, we should never ask ourselves, “Well, why? Well, why? Well, why?” This is what we have. I got Lyme disease, and that’s a rotten lemon, and doing this whole education series and working with wonderful people has become a big factor for me, and it produces lemonade.
In life, knowing that life isn’t always smooth and you get a little lemon here and there, what’s your lemonade?
Kate Forest: Oh, gosh. There’s been so many life lessons for me. So many. I try to use every experience to grow from and not carry the anger and the bitterness, but to learn and accept. I’m going to say my most recent lemon to lemonade would be diagnosed with thyroid cancer two years ago and just growing from that and having a deep sense of gratitude every moment throughout my journey and making some serious life changes to be a happier woman-
Cindy Kennedy: Unbelievable.
Kate Forest: … from that experience that I wanted to make for a long time.
Cindy Kennedy: It is one of those things that I’m sorry to hear that. I’m sure it was something that you weren’t planning on, and like you said, that was your lemon, and growing from that has become your lemonade, so I wish you more success in your journey and-
Kate Forest: Thank you.
Cindy Kennedy: … health and happiness from this point on.
Kate Forest: Yes, health is fully abundant. My health is amazing, and I’m probably healthier and happier in this moment in my life than I’ve been in many, many years.
Cindy Kennedy: That’s so good.
Kate Forest: Thank you.
Cindy Kennedy: You’re welcome. This has been Kate Forest, and you have been listening to Living with Lyme. This is your host Cindy Kennedy. I’d encourage you to come back and listen to us some more. Please sign in under our Stay Connected so that you can be alerted to new podcasts and new blogs. If you have questions, you have concerns, you have something to tell me, please email me. There is a button down the bottom of the webpage, and I’d be happy to get back to you as soon as possible. Take care, enjoy a cup of tea, and be mindful. Bye now.