May Newsletter: Compassion Benefits Mental Health, Eating for Satisfaction, Qigong in the Park

Happy May!

In this month’s newsletter, enjoy these readings

  • Article: Compassion Benefits Mental health! It’s Mental Health week May 6th to 12th,  2024.
  • Mindful Eating, Feeling Satisfied versus Full
  • Qigong in the Park, May 23 to June 27th
  • Weekly: Practice Together Weekly Sessions

Article: Compassion Benefits Mental Health

Mental health affects every single Canadian:

  • One in five Canadians has a mental illness
  • Four in five have good mental health

There is mental health and mental illness. They are different yet interconnected.

A person can have good mental health feel down, have a high level of stress because of life’s circumstances (i.e. world events that are out of our control) and be functioning well.

On the other hand, a person can have a mental diagnosis such as an anxiety disorder, depression or bi-polar. They have good mental health taking the proper medications, living a good lifestyle such as eating right, sleeping well and exercising regularly. They have support from their community and workplace. They have good and bad periods but are mostly able to manage their illness. They have good mental health!

I’d like to share a story about Tara…

Tara has been diagnosed with depression, her depression is under control she sees her psychotherapist regularly, she likes her job, feels capable of completing her work takes medication, she eats rights, exercises daily and sleeps well. She has good relationships with her family, friends and colleagues. She feels comfortable and respected in the places she lives and works. She feels the people in her life love her, she experiences compassion from them, they understand her and in return she responds with kindness. She knows she has a community that supports her.

Despite her mental illness, Tara has good mental health.  You see the difference? The community where you live, work and play can promote your mental health. It takes a village for a person to feel safe and supported.

Compassion can protect us from stress

Bringing compassion to others can change the way a person responds in a crisis.  Being kind, listening and taking time with them, can calm them down. Or at the same time ,support yourself to be self-compassionate!

You can guide them to tap into their breath, calm their active thoughts or emotions by connecting them to their body sensations and bringing into the present moment.  Calming the mind and body can change their inner dialogue from stress to self-compassion.

I had two siblings with severe mental illness. They struggled their whole adult life. I may have shared this experience with you. My brother was having a mental episode and was in a serious crisis situation. He suffered from schizophrenia plus many other illnesses. I had to admit him into the Centre for Addition and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto. The psychiatrist on-call immediately used the box breathing technique to calm him down, which I was really impressed with. It was difficult to get him to focus, the doctor used his finger tracing out a box for my brother to follow which shortly deescalated his stress and he could communicate more calmly.

Alternating nostril breathing also known as Pranayama is also helpful for managing stress and sleep. Focusing on each nostril breathing in one nostril and breathing out the other settles the mind. In an article from The Yoga journal explains its benefits.

Back to compassion. In a recent study by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and Maru/Matchbox found that almost all Canadians (92%) identify themselves to be compassionate. Evidence from the study demonstrated examples when giving compassion, receiving compassion, and allowing ourselves to experience self-compassion are all very beneficial to our mental health.

Margaret Eaton, National CEO, CMHA. Says, “Compassion is the practice of meeting suffering – whether our own or the suffering of others – with kindness. We all have the capacity to be compassionate and can benefit from its healing qualities,”

The CMHA has declared May 6th to 12th as mental health week. The theme for 2024 is the healing power of compassion.  

We can practice compassion by:

  • Showing warmth and understanding during times of suffering, failure, or perceived inadequacy and anytime, any day to acknowledge a person.
  • Acknowledging that both suffering and personal shortcomings are unavoidable aspects of the shared human experience;
  • Adopting a balanced approach to emotions to ensure feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated.
  • Becoming connected to your body sensations and recognize the body signals that inform us how we are feeling. As mentioned above, suppressing feelings can trigger mental illness episodes.  

Positive psychologist, Martin Seligman introduced an exercise to practice compassion. He did a study (I can’t find it but know about it) when a group of people sent a thank you letter to a friend, family member or themselves, it evoked feelings of self compassion.

Be kind to yourself with compassion

We all have the capacity to be compassionate, and we know that doing so can make an enormous difference. The healing power of compassion may help us better experience living in a world plagued by suffering from wars, injustice and uncertainty. Words of kindness and compassionate action are innately intrinsic in our humanity to share and capacity to give with others .

If you know someone who struggles with mental health take a few minutes to listen, give them a hug or help get them get help, not just this week, always!

We all have the power to heal ourselves even if we are struggling.

Here’s a loving kindness meditation to listen to or share.


Mindful Eating, Feeling Satisfied versus Full

Eating Mindfully

How often have you eaten food in your hand or on a plate and before you’ve blinked it’s gone!

I bet you didn’t even notice that you did that!

Mindless eating and overeating have become the norm. We can’t help it – it’s right in front of us, in abundance, easily accessible along with confusing messaging about nutrition. Not to mention, the multi billion-dollar diet culture and food industry manipulating food ingredients (sugar, fat, salt) and thus leading to emotional attachments to food because of trauma, fear, lack of confidence, and boredom. The diet culture preys on our negative body image adding to the eating disorders crisis.

Food responds to our need for comforting feelings, avoiding emotions or releasing stress. It can become unbearable or get out of control which is often deeply rooted in habits and childhood behaviours.

As a result, we don’t know what fullness feels like or recognize satisfaction!

What has happened that we‘ve become so disconnected from our body signals to not recognize fullness or satisfaction?

How many of you grew up with the household mantras “You better eat all the food on your plate” or “many people are starving in the world”, or “we had nothing growing up.” or” I have to clean my plate because I don’t want to be wasteful, or I paid good money for it.”

These thoughts are habits that you learned but are not necessarily true!

What does it mean to feel full?

Our internal clock tells us when we’re hungry and when to feed it which occurs at the breakfast, lunch, and dinner times plus snacks.  Moreover, these eating habits have conditioned the stomach to expect food at those times. The stomach gurgles and signals hunger that its time to eat. As a result, we never question to go longer without eating since food is so available to us.

When people don’t eat breakfast, they are not hungry in the morning or if you are in a different time zone you adapt to that time schedule.

Try it and find out the times when your stomach is hungry without looking at a clock?

Biologically, the stomach does not taste food or care about flavour. The stomach concerns itself with volume thinking how far it can stretch to accommodate being full before it signals discomfort or pain.

The stomach’s function is to break down the foods we eat. In my blog post from two weeks ago, How many tons of food will pass through your body in a lifetime?, I wrote about the transit time of the different food groups and how the digestive system is the most overworked system in the body.

It takes twenty minutes for the biological feedback loop to be completed and register fullness.

So, you have the signals of knowing fullness, but what about satisfied?

How can you assess being satisfied?

Scientists believe that there is an “appestat”, a hunger thermostat in the region of the hypothalamus of the brain which is believed to control a person’s appetite for food.

A normal appestat responds to four sources

  1. A physical sensation of fullness sends a message that travels from the stretched stomach via the vagus nerve to the satiety centre in the hypothalamus in the brain.
  2. Nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream , including glucose, fat and amino acids from broken down protein,
  3. Hormones are released from the small intestine and pancreas that food is absorbed  (chokecstoknin, insulin and glucagon) part of  the digestive process.
  4. Fat cells release leptin and other chemicals that help turn off the hunger signal.

In an unregulated “appestat, the nutrient absorption does not happen breaking the cycle of hormones being releasing from the pancreas and small intestine, the communication line between the vagus nerve and brain are blocked and the hunger chemical leptin does not turn off.

This is where mindful eating comes in….

Observe the signals between the mind and body.

Mindful eating benefits improving digestion, acid reflex, supporting brain function, feeling good from stimulating the senses and deep physical appreciation, giving us energy and strength.

Recognizing body hunger is important to feel. Knowing your hunger signals and awareness of hunger in the whole body not just from the stomach

Assessing hunger with the whole body means the eyes, mouth, and stomach. What do I mean, ask the whole body if it’s hungry? It could be thirst, needing a glass of water or moving your body to stimulate circulation for muscles contracting or hunger too!

Chewing food breaks down food into smaller particles absorption of nutrients are processed sooner in the stomach and fullness is experienced naturally. When food exits the stomach and enters the small intestine the “appestat” hormones signal the brain and body that we’ve had enough. You’re satisfied and time to stop eating.

Biologically, the body knows what to do and is designed to eat slowly.

Qigong in the Park – May 23rd to June 27th from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm

Have you heard of Qigong? It is an ancient health practice that originated in China some 3000+ years ago. It includes slow, graceful, movements synchronized with the breath to relax the mind into a calm state. It also helps to improve mental focus, and prevents as well as treats ill health and disease.

Qigong means “life force”

I became a certified Qigong teacher this year! I learned the practice of Radiant Lotus Women’s Qigong designed specifically for women of all ages. Radiant Lotus Qigong releases blockages in the meridians, organs, joints and tissues of the body, enabling your full life-force energy to move smoothly throughout into all aspects of your life.

There are numerous scientific studies about the practice of Qigong. It ss a daily practice that can help to lower the stress hormone cortisol, regulate the nervous system and stimulate the lymphatic system for draining waste and toxins out of the body. when you can self-regulate your mind and body bringing it into balance, you feel empowered. The practice and language references living in harmony with the natural world, its beauty and rhythms of Mother Earth, and the cosmos. I find it very beautiful and calming.

Join me in-person for a six-week Qigong class in the park at Riverdale Park West Cabbagetown). on Thursdays at 11:30 am to 12:30 pm from may 23rd to June 27th, 2024 (Time is negotiable!). Afterwards, can have share a pot luck picnic lunch in the park, weather permitting! No previous experience required. The movements are easy to learn and very enjoyable. Qigong will bring a smile to your face.

Here’s a video of Daisy Lee, my teacher and founder of Radiant Lotus Women’s Qigong. At the park, you will be learning these movements too. It’s calming, beautiful and feels amazing!

There is a fee of $50 for the six weeks. Sign up here


Weekly Sessions PRACTICE TOGETHER

Join us in gentle movement and meditation as we PRACTICE TOGETHER on Tuesdays at 6:00 pm, and Thursdays at 10:00 am

Gentle movement prepares you for sitting in stillness in mediation to relax into the experience. Becoming aware of your breath while moving slows down the heart rate, calms the mind and regulates the nervous system. Gentle movement releases the joints and releases tension in the body.

Access the calendars here to register for this week’s sessions:

Mindful Tuesdays at 6:00 pm 

Somatic Movement on Thursdays, at 10:00am 

For the first 20 minutes, we practice qigong movement sitting and standing following with a meditation for 25 minutes on Tuesdays.

On Thursdays we practice Somatic movement to release stress from the body and improve posture, alignment and functionality (from injury, stress or overuse). You can read more about somatic movement here

 This week we will do a movement lesson on the Fundamentals of a Healthy Back Learning to sense functions and efforts through all five curves, including breathing.

You’re first visit is FREE!

We meet virtually on zoom so you can join us from wherever you are! 

lessons are on the floor lying down on the back, side or front. Props of pillows and towels are suggested. have a yoga mat and your computer screen to be adjusted so I can see you! If not, let me know and we’ll work it out.

Pay what you can or join the calm membership and take as many classes as you wish for $35/month.

To register for any of the sessions, click on the date you want, add your email and you will receive an email confirmation with the zoom link. It can  also be copied into your calendar.