Wellness, Yoga, and Me: Where was I when I needed me?

Aligning Movement & Breath

My love of Yoga started twenty-six years ago in 1994. At the time, I was a wife with a husband in graduate school and a mother of two children under the age of five years old. I had graduated from the University of Toronto Faculty of Social Work in 1993, where I had worked full-time on my master of social work degree with two children under the age of two years old while also teaching on a part-time basis at Seneca College. I had already started my career in social services and was advised to formalize my plans with a post-graduate degree.

Luckily, I was hired post-MSW as a contract researcher with the National Health Information Research Board where I worked on developing models to analyze epidemiological large scale data and processes required to support health investments across the country. Needless to say that I was very busy.

I had been raised by a strong mother whose belief in her children was staunch and unwavering. She taught us to do our best in all things, and to reach as high as possible in our studies and career aspirations. My mother had immigrated to Canada during the early fifties, when women’s access to and rights to financial independence were greatly impeded by real systemic blocks. As a wife, my mother had NO financial freedom independent of her husband and my father. My dad had to co-sign on any loans, accounts, and large purchases. My parents differed on their views about family finances as my mother had a savvy business sense without any real possibility to develop it. My dad did not support her financial suggestions. Like many immigrant men of his time, my father was a very hard worker and truly worked hard his entire life first in construction and then in custodial work for a local Shopping Mall. Subsequently, our family enjoyed the comforts of home similar to other working class newcomers to Canada.

My deeply entrenched view that women could have it all was well-established before attending university. I was one of two or three married women in my graduate program who had already had children. I was the first woman to successfully appeal for a one year deferral into the program due to pregnancy. Prior to my self-advocacy, women would have to re-apply and take their chances around being accepted into what was widely agreed to be a very competitive post-graduate program.

I seemed to manage juggling many balls at the same time until all of this busy-ness and stress finally caught up with me. Like any other human body, the toxic impacts of stress and exhaustion began to take its toll. I have since learned that stress impacts the body the same way in all of us. In fact, I would go as far to say, that no human body is immune to the toxic impacts of stress, worry, anxiety, and trauma, and that we all suffer in the same way. Common symptoms include hypervigilance to risk and danger, sleeplessness, ruminative thoughts, increased heart rates, shallow breathing, and digestive problems.

Some people are simply better at managing stress, balancing irrational thoughts caused by worry and anxiety, and regaining or maintaining composure in emotionally volatile situations. Individuals who learn effective self-care strategies early can mediate both short and long term negative impacts of stress on the body and mind. Yoga was one of the most effective strategies I learned early in my career to re-align my breathing with movement. All the clinical training provided both in class and in field placements referred to as a “practicum” in social work assisted in building skills used to mediate vicarious stress caused by working with individuals and families in crisis. However, I intuitively grew my own personal Wellness Strategies needed to work in the field as a healthy practitioner over the long term.

Around the same time that I began to take Yoga classes offered through my local community center run by the City of Toronto, I also took a Beyond Stress class offered by the Eli Bay Institute in Toronto.

I was certainly beyond stressed at that time, and remember this program as pivotal turning point in my self-care regimen. The class was filled with mainly client-based human service professionals including physicians, surgeons, and lawyers. We were taught about the ways the human body responds to stress and how it accumulates over time. We were also taught about the powerful strategy of “mindful breathing” to release habitual corporeal stress responses like shallow breathing, racing thoughts, and rapid heart rates.

Of course, years of yoga practices and mindful breathing exercises was rewarded professionally with assignments characterized as the “hardest to serve”. I often felt like the character Mikey from the cereal commercial who was called to “test” food as he would eat anything. In my early years, I developed a reputation as “fat file Lisa“, the resident clinician who could and would work with clients who had not yet progressed under care. Solution-focused therapy (SFT) coupled with Strength-based client-centered care was the best fit as my clients were truly experts of their own problems. Helping individuals and families to shift perspectives to include solutions was challenging and highly rewarding. Helping systems to make a similar shift, especially in light of professional wellness needs remains difficult.

One of the most important aspects of Yoga is the lessons of self-care it yields often after each class. With a more developed nuanced practice, each Yoga session with yourself will teach you something about your self or your life in the moment in which you find yourself. Yoga is not a competitive sport to me. I have withdrawn from classes where the competitive energy in the class was palpable. It does provide opportunities to deepen self-understanding and to notice the subtle ways that your own body stores stress that may or may not belong to you.

During the first Covid lockdown, I found myself working more than ever. I neglected my Yoga practice and opted to walk with some neighbours and friends instead. During these last several days of the holiday season, I have resumed Yoga using YouTube and especially enjoy the Flight Master Classes with Leslie. I encourage you to consider doing the same.

The Wellness Industry has provided so many benefits to professionals in corporate sectors. The impact of this shift is now shaping options workers have through Employee Assistance Programs and personal health insurance plans.

It is not selfish to centralize your own Self-Care into your professional work. Your own body, friends, and family will thank you all for the investment of energy and love that you have poured into your self as you age and model for others what health does, thinks, and feels after years of hard work. My own health and wellness is not an accident or good luck, it is a result of years of intentional daily practices that include physical exercise, nutritional care, food prep, and positive social interactions with people who make me feel good.

I intuitively developed a self-care practice that mitigated professional burn-out, ineffective clinical interventions, boredom, poor self-worth or low self-esteem. I am currently working to support you in your personal journey of wellness, so that your ongoing health and wellbeing is not left up to chance or a gamble. Choosing to do, think, and feel well may in fact result in making some fairly significant changes in your life. We are here when you are ready!

Sunny dispositions deserve to shine!!!!

#wellnesspractices #self-care #healthy

In Memory of My Big Brother Mike

R.I.P. April 5, 2015

My older brother Mike died 5 years ago today. He lived a very full life and enjoyed much of his 57 years on earth. He was the second of six children born in rapid succession to my mother and father after immigrating to Canada following world war two. Had Mike not succumbed to his declining health related to Hep C and prolonged methadone use, he would have been 62 years old this December.

Family 1970’s Toronto – Mike is holding up his Peace Sign. I’m all smiles in pink on the bottom right.

Mike was an active and smart student excelling in his elementary school years. He attended a local high school where he dropped out of school in grade 10. Mike later disclosed that he began to skip school when his gym teacher mandated swimming in the nude. He opted to hang out at the local park instead. Like any good mother, our mom supported Mike skipping gym as he felt self-conscious in the nude. What she did not see coming was Mike meeting up with other teenagers who had less interest in schooling.

In an all too common story, it was during these formative years that Mike began to experiment with alcohol and drugs. In the ’70’s, it was common for young people to be hired for full-time employment and Mike landed himself a job as a grocer at a local store owned by Weston Foods called Loblaw. He stayed working as a grocer until moving to work as a Landscaper with the City of Toronto in 1982. Mike worked with the City, and then Metro for 28 years.

Mike’s teenage experimentation with drugs and alcohol did, in fact, become the gateway to a lifelong addiction to alcohol, gambling, and street drugs. Our mother stood beside Mike, and tried to support his personal battles with addiction and gambling. Mike was always a happy drunk who never quite learned to identify when he had enough. Mike was an addict who could not keep money in his pocket. Like many people who suffer with addictions, Mike’s drinking was his emotional burden he carried for most of his adult life.

His addiction to street drugs was mediated with an extensive treatment program provided by a team of specialists at CAMH and his inclusion in the methadone harm reduction program. This methadone program saved Mike‘s life. Similar to the effect of alcohol, Mike was happiest when he was high. It was only when the alcohol and drugs tapered off that his overwhelming sense of sadness and depression would rise up.

Mike was deeply remorseful about the negative impacts of his addictions on our Mother, family, love-interests, colleagues, and his own health. In his lowest points, he felt such intense shame about his personal vices. Mike did engage in counselling treatment and did his best to change his unhealthy ways. He failed more times than not, but never gave up. Mike stayed close to family and we hung in there for him.

As the youngest in the family, Mike was always my Big Brother. In my eyes, he was strong, fearless, and protective. I learned to be confident and brave in part, because I always knew that Mike would be there to protect me. He relied on me quite a bit. He knew that I would never give him money or alcohol. But I always had an ear and meal whenever he felt lonely and sad. Mike would drop in often, and did take interest in all our children. He was like our family guard dog always watchful that our children were safe and well.

As his health declined, Mike told me that he would rather die than lose his legs. One of his greatest fears was to be an amputee, like many of his chronic alcoholic friends who lived in a local rehab hospital.

When Mike died, all of us were with him. He died peacefully surrounded by all of his siblings and their partners at our local hospital. In truth, everyone loved Mike. He always had a funny thing to say and he would say it when it was least expected – making everyone laugh. Mike was a sincere and loyal friend. He enjoyed comedy and music. He protected the weak and stood up for people he believed were mistreated.

The family was prepared to meet up at the cemetery today to reminisce about Mike’s life, but was prevented by COVID 19 physical distancing restrictions. Mike will forever be in our hearts. He has shaped my work in harm reduction and addictions care. He taught me about co-dependence, healthy limit-setting, and the importance of humanity in care providing roles with all people.

Sunny dispositions deserve to shine!!!!

#wellness #healthy #family #addiction #concurrent disorders #codependence #harmreduction

Acts of Honour

Now, was that honourable ???

The idea of honour is an ancient one that has been explored in philosophy, the classical arts, literature, psychology, and behaviourism. The concept is a loaded one as it does imply a level of judgment. To view an act as one of honour means that you have decided this particular situation, response, behaviour, position, or stand is one that reflects your personal views and values. Moreover, it means that you have assessed or judged something in an esteemed and respectable manner that is fitting for social admiration as well.

Honour is a thing to be admired, a higher standard to which you yourself aspire to maintain and uphold for the sake of your own wellbeing, and more importantly for the sake of others. Honour is awe-inspiring. It sets the basis upon which tales are told and shared within diverse cultures.

In this now fading time of “cancel culture”, making judgements has become risky. Party to superficial analysis and critique, your judgments run the risk of public censor even before you have had the time to fully develop your point of view. One of the unfortunate impacts of social media is the overly simplified manner in which information is both shared and understood.

All human languages are subtle and nuanced. They are filled with a multiplicity of meanings that may not fit within the techno-parameters set out by our increasingly digitized world. What you have you lost by a comment, text, or like? Who has wrongly judged you on the basis of your civil right to take a stand? What have we collectively lost even when one person’s right to speak up is silenced?

Acts of honour are often the topic of psychotherapy, albeit not identified as such. Parents, spouses, adolescents, and children will often speak up about situations in the home with which they may not agree. Depending on the developmental stage of the individual and the situation in which you may find yourself, your teens may truly view the dishonour in your activity and call you out accordingly.

Healthy homes have spaces for dissent and active dialogue where differences of opinions are safely expressed, shared, and discussed with repair and resolution as the intended goals. Healthy families understand that the ultimate end-game is love, support, and well-being. There may be years when family members disagree about situations, and perhaps dissolve.

Divorce is one real example where family members leave each other over irreparable situations. Thinking about your process of separation and divorce with this perspective of honour as the backdrop may in fact help you to move forward with less disruption than without this working paradigm.

Your actions will be judged by your family, friends, and most importantly your children. Every interaction and encounter with your loved ones as you move towards starting over as a single person again sets up an opportunity to act honourably or not. The decision is yours to make.

Most psychotherapists are trained to help you work through unresolved feelings about your spouse and family as you move through divorce, grief, financial ruin, or more. Reminding yourself about the role of honour in your life may help to guide your steps in ways that consider the needs of everyone involved and not just your own.

Invest in psychotherapy today.

Dr. Romano-Dwyer RSW

#wellness #honour #mentalhealth #healthy