Yoga &/or Meditation: Why She's in Love with It

  • posted by Marci Anderson Evans
  • Saturday, September 08, 2012
 Today we have the very good fortune to hear from guest blogger, Amber Barke, therapist and yoga instructor extra-ordinaire. While she has been a long-time lover of yoga and mindfulness practice, I am very much a newbie. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

For those who know me, either personally or professionally, it’s no surprise that I am an avid and whole-hearted cheerleader for yoga and meditation. Over and over, I sing praise for (but try not to preach about) all of the benefits of a mind-body practice. My yoga classes sometimes sound like therapy sessions, and my work in individual and group sessions certainly resonate with tones of Eastern medicine, holisitic psychology, and integrated healing.

…but I never push. (As it turns out, attempting to push, force, control, insist, or fix people just doesn’t work – and it wastes a lot of energy).

However, I have noticed that almost all of my clients that have sustained any semblance of longer-term recovery, balanced living and wellness have one thing in common: a mindfulness practice. They do something, consistently, that involves A) being in their bodies and B) being in the present moment. Yoga just happens to be one of the easiest and most accessible ways to accomplish this, but is – by no means –the only option.

So why does it work?

Okay, first we have to go back. Way back. As lovely as it is to run around in our designer heels and fancy cars, we have to remember that our ancestors were cave people. We developed, biologically, from these very primitive and less sophisticated ancestors. Parts of our brain are primitive, and as sophisticated as our thinking can be, we still have our limbic system, firing away, in a similar fashion to our ancient relatives.

Imagine that you are a cave person and your survival depends on your ability to A) eat and B) not get eaten by a saber-tooth tiger. Imagine that you are out in the sunshine on a beautiful day, with the sun shining on your face, and feeling the soft breeze blowing in your cave person hair – and then BAM!!!!!!!! You hear a rustling in the bush. Immediately, you are prepared for danger because that sound may be a predator. You’re ready to run, or to fight – sending your parasympthatic nervous system into fight or flight response. Adrenaline pumps, and stress hormones are shot into your bloodstream so that you can survive.

Okay, so what?? We’re not cave people any more, so how does this apply to me and my life today?

Science has shown that our brains continue to demonstrate this negativity bias. In a split second, even when there is an infinite amount of positive stimuli to attend to, our brains with naturally, automatically, and because of evolution, zero in on the perceived threat, the “negative” experience, the rustling in the bushes.

And at one time, this saved our lives.

As the psychologist, Donald Hebb, put it: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Our thoughts, feelings, memories and behaviors leave behind lasting impressions on the brain – a lot like the grooves created by a stream flowing down a hill. These grooves are pathways, of sorts, that create the lens in which we perceive reality – both ourselves and the world. So very simply, our brain grooves set us up with a lens to perceive our reality in one of two ways: views that make us suffer, or views that lead us to happiness. Your experience matters.

As the intersection of science and Eastern philosophies continues to develop, the exciting news is this: there is a scientifically supported rationale for being nice to yourself. If your experience matters, this creates a substantiated argument that creating and experiencing more wholesome, calm, joyful, pleasant, and satisfying experiences will change your brain.

This is where yoga comes in. While there are many ways to access the elusive and healing “present moment”, we typically don’t learn them. We are top-heavy learners, relying on our rational minds, our intellect, and our reasoning to develop. We sit in desks and eat at scheduled times instead of moving our bodies and learning to trust our hunger cues. We learn to trust “what we are told” instead of our own intuitive sensations, essentially leaving the present moment behind over and over again to examine the past or to predict the future.

As Tara Brach points out, “the only place that is ever REALLY safe is this present moment.” And as for as our neurobiology is concerned, that is true. Whatever type of yoga class you sign up for, there is one unifying characteristic – breath. All yoga is (or at least should be) an exercise in finding the breath, yoking the breath to movement, and –alas- using the breath as a vehicle to come back to the present moment. That’s why yoga works. Eventually, the brain starts to change, and the cumulative effect of our nervous system registering the safety of this moment right now takes effect. I could sing praise for all the physical benefits of a regular yoga practice: joint health, muscle recovery, flexibility, and appetite regulation – but for me, the mental and emotional benefits have been profound.

How do you feel about yoga or meditation? Have you tried it? Do you embrace it or shun it? Share your thoughts with us!

#ENDED Twitter Chat with Eating Disorder Network of Maryland

  • posted by Marci Anderson Evans
  • Thursday, July 12, 2012
We have a very exciting Twitter chat coming your way this month! We are honored to have Sharon Peterson, the director of  Eating Disorder Network of Maryland (EDN Maryland) talk with us about the genetic component of eating disorders as well as how clients and therapists can learn to manage personality traits that may be hindering recovery.  

More about Sharon Peterson: Sharon has been an outpatient therapist providing individual, family, and group therapy since 1995. She has worked for numerous community mental health agencies and school systems in Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Maryland. In June of 2007 Sharon founded and is currently director of: Eating Disorder Network of Maryland (EDN Maryland), a community-based program made up of professionals, parents & family volunteers who are dedicated to spreading eating disorder awareness and education throughout Maryland.

 If you're new to Twitter, here's a primer on how to participate. It's simple, go to and enter the keyword "#endED" and it will appear as if you're in a chat room. Watch the tweets stream live and join in on the conversation. Be sure to follow @MarciRD and @EDNMaryland

We hope you can join us on July 25th th at 8:30 EST. Feel free to RSVP on Facebook as well!

Earn Your Mac N' Cheese Tonight

  • posted by Marci Anderson Evans
  • Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Earn your mac n’ cheese tonight.

You have probably read something like this and other similar obnoxious advertisements at your local gym. And it annoys me every time. Can you imagine telling a child that they have to run 5 laps around the back yard to earn dinner? NO! Of course not. So why do we do that to ourselves? We often think in terms of:

30 min of biking for 2 pieces of chocolate

You can’t blame yourself for this type of thinking. It’s taught to you in just about every women’s magazine out there. But what would happen if we flipped our thinking?

2 pieces of chocolate for 30 min of biking

While I’m being a bit playful here, I’m serious about the principle. We have to start thinking about fueling our bodies for our busy days and physical activity rather than burning off our food and the associated guilt from eating. From a psychological and emotional perspective it is totally unproductive because it fuels the notion that eating is bad and is a sin that must be “atoned for.”

Why don’t you try turning your food/exercise equation on its head and let me know how it goes!

At the moment I have a book project I’m developing (in my brain for now). It’s geared towards helping people repair their relationship with exercise. If I was to write such a book, what would you want covered?

Exercise: How to "make it count"

  • posted by Marci Anderson Evans
  • Friday, September 02, 2011
 * In order for my exercise "to count" it has to hurt
*In order for my exercise "to count" I have to do it 6 days a week, for at least an hour
*In order for my exercise "to count" I have to feel worn out after
*In order for my exercise "to count" I can't eat anything "bad" after

Ok, do any of the above statements sound vaguely familiar? When you see it written down, doesn't it looks somewhat abusive? Many people create totally unrealistic expectations of what their exercise should look like. And when they don't live up to those expectations, it's thrown out the window all together!

The Center for Disease Control has posted exercise guidelines for healthy adults. It states that in order to reap the health benefits from exercise, try to aim for 30 min of moderate exercise most days (not all) of the week. THIS INCLUDES: walking, riding a bike, doing water aerobics, mowing the lawn...perhaps hula hooping?

NEWS FLASH! You do not have to rake your body over the coals to benefit from physical activity. So lets let go of unrealistic, black and white goals around exercise.  Your best bet to "making it count" for the long run is to find exercise that you not only enjoy but can sustain. 

**Note: I tell all of my clients that a pre-requisite to any physical activity is consistent, adequate nutrition.

What are you feel-good exercise tips?

Be Big

  • posted by Marci Anderson Evans
  • Tuesday, July 19, 2011
*Note: the post below is written by a client of mine, who happens to be extremely passionate about swimming. This article (in a longer form) appeared in the July/August 2011 New England Masters newsletter. She shared it with me and I was extremely eager to share it with you. Enjoy.

Recently at the pool I admired a guy swimmer’s newly peroxided hair. The guys around him said, “Yeah, we call him the Blond Baller now.” “Argh!” I screamed. For weeks I had been trying to come up with a female swim power phrase, the equivalent for “macho.” Our language doesn’t have many, or any, female swim power words.

The Blond Baller is a superfast sprinter, so I assumed the “Baller” part of his nickname referred to his fast (swim) stroke. I posted my female swim power language dilemma on the US Masters swim forum and got some interesting suggestions, many of them, ironically, from men—Piscine Goddess, Aqua Aphrodite, and Buff Babes—but none met my criteria of using body language words to convey power. I had my own pitiful list: Ball Busters (later on that one), Water Sweepers (thinking of housekeepers), Power Surgers, Tough-Breasted. Bleah.

Meanwhile, another thread on the masters swim forum was talking about Janet Evans’s possible return to Olympic swimming. A few guy masters swimmers close to her age began worrying that she would be able to beat them. One guy posted, “I used to think I was safe from being ‘chicked’ by masters women roughly near my age in distance races.” Another guy then suggested the term “outchicked” as a way to describe a powerful female swimmer, but this suggested a relational kind of power (aka “Ball Buster”) rather than pure female power.

I found some good nicknames for Olympic female swimmers: Faith Leech, a 1956 Australian Olympic freestyler, was known as the “Flying Fish” because of her streamlined length and “elegant” technique. Mary T. Meagher was known as “Madame Butterfly,” and AP quotes described Janet Evans as “a Force of Nature,” “a whirling dervish of a swimmer,” “perpetual motion.” There was one female-only suggestion from the masters swim forum that I sort of liked: “bitchin,’” as in “bitchin’ sprinter” (though it still has a slightly negative ring).

In the back of my mind, though, I kept thinking “Big Girls.” At a lot of swim meets, the really powerful female swimmers are big. Big shoulders, big arms, big backs, big quads, big muscles overall. They aren’t the majority, but they aren’t the minority either. I think of swimming as a sport where it’s OK to be “sized.” Big Women doesn’t do it for me—it’s gotta be Big Girls, to tie in to the link from childhood on that girls are supposed to be small. Petite. Svelte. Even if very strong, you can’t look it, else you risk being called manly or compared to former East German steroid-enhanced female Olympic swimmers.

I’ll take Evans’s “Force of Nature” any day, but I also want to say to every girl and woman who swims (or does any type of physical activity for that matter): Be Big. Take up a lot of space. Be a Big Force of Nature, a Big Whirling Dervish, a Big Powerful Bitchin’ Swimmer who doesn’t care about “outchicking” guys, but just wants to move with power and strength.

Be a Big Girl and be proud of it.