Stress: It’s Not All in Your Head

Imagine how your life would change if you had a trusty ally that pointed you in the right direction when making decisions. Imagine how relaxed you’d feel knowing that even difficult decisions no longer involve strenuous mental gymnastics. Your ally would actually give your mind a rest. No more over-thinking, no more lying awake trying to figure out your next best move—just you trusting what you know and acting with confidence.

On top of that, how would your life improve if you could lower stress when you choose by stopping self-sabotaging thinking habits when they arise? You might be asking, “ Can I do that?”

Yes, you absolutely can.

While most stress management programs are cognitive, trying to figure out our problems and solutions, try a new perspective to taking charge of your stress; through identifying where it lives, stored in your body.

When we create stress by over thinking and holding in what we feel, we enlist our bodies to hold on to that stress for us.  For instance we might want to punch back but instead we hold our anger (and stress) in by tightly squeezing our fists. We might desire to scream out loud but can’t, so we clamp our jaw shut and swallow what we want to yell.  Our urge might be to give someone a resounding no, but say yes while straining our face to smile. Negative thoughts, beliefs and emotions that we detach from mentally, and stored away in our body don’t just go away. They literally become lodged within our body parts and can create STRESS in our lives over and over. Therefore, our stress and our solutions are in our bodies, not just in our minds.

That’s why the best choice you can make when you feel at your wits end, and are over thinking something, whether it’s a decision or a business problem, is to get out of your head as quickly as possible. Start observing your body and find out where you are building tension, observe your breathing, get up and move, wave a hand, open up your arms and chest real wide, shake your tail feather and those stale wires in your brain loose, so you can de-stress and reboot, just like you do when your computer gets stuck.

Scientists say our brains can take cues from our body movements to understand and solve complex problems, so why just get headaches and anxiety trying to figure something out when you can move and shake your stress out and your brain loose too ?

In 2009, University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras, with Vanderbilt University postdoctoral researcher Laura Thomas conducted the first study to show that a person’s ability to solve a problem can be influenced by how he or she moves. Their results from testing fifty-two University of Illinois students concluded that body motion can affect higher order thought, the complex thinking needed to solve complicated problems.By directing the participant’s movements they found a substantive affect on their ability to successfully solve demanding insight problems, demonstrating that specific movement interventions can implicitly enhance higher order cognitive processing.

Their findings offer new insight into what researchers call “embodied cognition”, which describes the link between body and mind.  Lleras and Thomas reported “People tend to think that their mind lives in their brain, dealing in conceptual abstractions, very much disconnected from the body.

This emerging research is fascinating because it is demonstrating how your body is a part of your mind in a powerful way. The way you think is affected by your body, and in fact, the way you  use your body will help us think.

Studies like this raise the possibility that paying attention to our movements could be instrumental in arriving at insights, enhancing creative thinking, and taking charge of our stress and reducing it on demand!

When we get overwhelmed by stress, trauma and uncomfortable emotions and can’t for any reason, express or resolve those feelings, we enlist our bodies to hold on to them for us.  For instance we might want to punch back but instead we hold our anger in by tightly squeezing our fists. We might desire to scream out loud but can’t, so we clamp our jaw shut and swallow what we want to yell.  Our urge might be to give someone a resounding no, but say yes while straining our face to smile. Negative thoughts, beliefs and emotions that we detached from mentally, and stored away in our body don’t just go away. They literally become lodged within our body parts and can create havoc in our lives.

Therefore, your problems and your solutions are in your body, not just in your mind, so when you get stuck in thinking, listen to your body, move it around and see how your stress reduces and fresh new ideas emerge!

Assess Your Stress and De-Stress Today!


Horse Whispering for Life Enrichment

Horses are a big part of our life and have been for a very long time. According to Wikipedia humans began to domesticate horses around 4000 BC and their domestication is believed to have been widespread by 3000 BC.

We bet on them. We compete on them. We police crowds and engage in warfare on them. We use them in beer commercials. We ride them as we gaze over a cliff at the ocean on vacation, and they pull us in a carriage through Central Park in New York city.

And we derive products from them too, including meat, milk, hide, hair, bone, and pharmaceuticals extracted from the urine of pregnant mares.

However, more recently individuals, therapists and even corporate teams have been interacting with horses to gain emotional, mental and physical benefits from their equine pals.

People search high and low for that “magic bullet” and “perfect coach” and “high experience” that will help them lower stress, gain self-awareness and learn how to take charge of their life and better navigate in day-to-day situations. People have tried walking over coals, herding cattle at dude ranches and climbing on ropes courses to build self-esteem and bond leadership teams and now many are turning to equine-assisted programs to give them a real, honest insight about themselves that might not have been revealed otherwise. And there’s some good reasons why horses are taking on this new role.

As prey animals, horses have roamed and survived this planet for thousands of years, and have developed a finely tuned intuition that can reflect a person’s emotional state at any given moment.  Since we live in a culture that has taught us not to feel or express emotions, horse whisperers are showing us how horses can mirror our emotions and through that process, we can reach a place in our human hearts and psyches that more traditional therapies may not have touched before.

I had the pleasure of meeting a horse whisperer and learning about equine therapy from one of the best in the industry, Franklin Levinson, first in Maui at his former training facility and more recently in Crete, Greece where he and his wife Ilona currently live and teach.

Levinson shared one example of how people have insights when with horses. “The truth is that sometimes parents and business leaders who I train with horses tell me: ‘I know I’ve been hard on my kid or my staff, and I realized this when I saw how I was with my horse”, Levinson said.

Levinson also takes horse whispering one step further, for children with disabilities. Levinson has worked with children with various handicaps ranging from physical to mental. He states,” Forging a relationship with horses is empowering and can bring miraculous results, especially with autistic and ADHD children. Horses often and easily hold the attention of such children, becoming a living sounding board for them to interact with, while also teaching them important partnership skills.

We can also learn about how we judge ourselves, and others, according to Levinson. “Too often, grand prix riders – even those with rooms full of trophies – are critical of horses that they describe as ‘crazy’ or ‘stubborn’ when they refuse to take a jump,” says Levinson. “All the blame is put on the horse. Truthfully, there’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ horse. But there are plenty of fearful horses. The unwanted behavior is a symptom of fear. We should not judge horses in human terms. Indeed, any horse can be inspired to be more cooperative if the human becomes the trustworthy great leader.”

Levinson has taught me that horse whispering may not even be as much about riding as it is about understanding the horse and, by extension; ourselves. “Perhaps all that is required is the right guidance to trigger our own intuition and judgment. Sometimes all it takes is one good look at ourselves to change something,” says Levinson.

“To be good with horses at a high level requires us humans to come forward with some of our best qualities and attributes”, Levinson continues. “Similar to a ‘great parent’, successful relationships with horses require compassion, kindness, precision, patience, clarity, knowledge great leadership, acquired skills and more.”

It is clear that practicing appropriate interaction with horses helps humans to become more highly functional in all their relationships.


Levinson’s Life Enrichment through Fun with Horses experience is done through fun, non-stressful and mutually successful interaction with an appropriate horse.  It supports introspection and self-inquiry through the quality of the on the ground interplay between the horse and human. People come away from the program having had an experience of horses far beyond a lovely trail ride. These experiences can enhance and expand inner-peace, compassion, confidence, patience, tolerance, focus, presence, self-esteem, communication, leadership and partnership.

For more on the courses Frank an Ilona offer visit


Make a Move, Your Brain Loves It

Movement is a language the brain understands and enjoys.

The moment we bring attention to our movements, any movement, the brain resumes growing new connections and creating new pathways. Conversely, movement with out awareness does not provide the brain with any new information- it just mimics old patterns.

Donald Olding Hebb, a Canadian psychologist known as the father of neuropsychology and neural networks, explains this process well. He combined years of work in brain surgery with his study of human behavior and came up with what is known as Hebbian theory or Hebb’s law.  In his classic 1949 work The Organization of Behavior, he shares Hebb’s law. “When an axon of cell A is near enough to excite cell B and repeatedly or persistently takes part in firing it, some growth process or metabolic change takes place in one or both cells such that A’s efficiency, as one of the cells firing B, is increased.” This is often paraphrased as “Neurons that fire together wire together.” which was popularized and eloquently described in the movie “What the Bleep Do We Know?” by Dr. Joe Dispenza.  Neuroscientist, chiropractor, lecturer and author

Dr. Dispenza sat back on his comfortable chair and confidently said in the movie, “We know physiologically that nerve cells that fire together wire together. If you practice something over and over, those nerve cells have a long-term relationship. If you move the same way on a daily basis, you’re embedding that neural net.  And that neural net now has a long-term relationship with all those other nerve cells called an ‘identity.’ We also know that nerve cells that don’t fire together no longer wire together. They lose their long-term relationship because every time we interrupt the thought process that produces a chemical response in the body, those nerve cells that are connected to each other start breaking the long-term relationship.”

An American psychiatrist and researcher in the field of neuroplasticity Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz in his book The Mind and the Brain describes this process and us, this way. “As ‘neural electricians’ with a neuro-plastic brain, who can take charge of our brain function, we are not restricted to working with existing wiring. We can run whole new cables through our brain.”

Tinny Davis, 84 from Comex, British Columbia does this on a daily basis. Three times a day she perches by her window near Highland Secondary School and waves her hand enthusiastically to the students as they walk by.  She’s been doing this since 2007. She found that waving and smiling and patting her heart when they wave back boosts her energy and mood in the morning, lunch break and afternoon, every school day. In turn many students voiced that it was weird at first but by doing it daily, “ We began to count on her smile. She pumps everyone’s attitude up a bit.” Her waving and smiling, and us doing it back makes everyone’s mood a little brighter.” Tinny Davidson’s movements not only create new wire cables in her brain, but burst open some students neural nets and helped them build new ones too.

This story confirms what social psychologist Amy Cuddy found in her research project at Harvard University where she is an Assistant Professor in the Business Department. . In Her TEDTalk, delivered at TEDGlobal 2012 in Edinburgh, Scotland Cuddy claimed  “ Our body language reveals that we can change other people’s perceptions — and even our own body chemistry — simply by changing body positions. Our bodies change our minds, and our minds can change our behavior, and our behavior can change our outcomes.”

In 2010 Cuddy along with Assistant Professor Dana Carney of UC-Berkeley conducted a study called “Physical Motion” with sixty-six Columbia University students.

They found that expansive, open movements like waving your arms high the way Tinny does, boost hormone levels, increases testosterone, and decreases cortisol.

My personal experience and work with clients confirms for me that the best way to break an embedded neural net in the brain and to shift limited thinking and the energy behind that thinking is to breathe, move and express openly like Tinny Davidson does, as often as possible. That positive interaction between your mind and body with movement awareness can create the new kind of cable wires in your brain that Jeffrey Schwartz defined.

The best choice you can make when you feel at your wits end, down in the dumps, or ready to give up is to get out of your head as quickly as possible. Start observing your body, breathe, move, wave that hand, open up your arms and chest real wide like a happy baboon, shake that tail feather and those stale wires in your brain loose, and grow some new ones.

Make a Move

I invite you to make a move right now that feels expansive to you. It can be opening your arms wide, or lifting them high like when an athlete crosses the finish line or any gesture that opens you wide up…. and smile. Sync that movement up with your breathing at the same time and notice how that changes your energy or thinking right now. How did that feel? Did it change your thinking, mood or energy level? Making that choice to pause and make a move even for a moment like we just did can make a big difference in how you feel, make decisions or react to a situation. For more body assessment tests go to


De-Stress on Demand

The stress stats are screaming at us. They may even be adding stress for some, but they like stress are very real.

1.) 80% of Dr. visits are stress related

2.) More than half of all deaths result from stressful lifestyles.- U.S. Center for Disease Control

3.) Over 30% of U.S. adults experience enough daily stress to impact their performance at home or work. – National Science Foundation

4.) Annually over $800 million dollars is spent on “anti-anxiety pills”. The U.S. accounts for 5% of the world’s population and consumes 33% of the pills.-Neurogen

5.) 77% of the U.S. population feels physical symptoms from stress. American Psychological Association, American Institute of Stress, NY

Every day I hear from clients and friends about how stressed they are and how it’s becoming more chronic by the day, and they feel as if they could explode.

“If I don’t take a break from it all, I might blow a gasket,” a client told me. I invited her to follow her inner compass and take time off alone, shut down her smart devices and relax, reflect and sort out the stressful issues in her life. The client agreed and decided to do a solo retreat. When I emailed her a week later to see how she was doing she said she’d postponed her retreat and stress had gotten worse. Two weeks later I learned that she hadn’t taken a break and had a heart attack. This story brings home the following realities:

  • ·The human body is not designed to deal with prolonged chronic stress.
  • ·Our modern world seems designed to create prolonged and chronic stress.
  • ·Our culture offers very few proactive, healthy tools and methods for dealing with the new levels of stress that affect us daily.
  • ·Most people think of stress as something that comes from outside. They focus on external problems and fail to address and heal the roots of stress within.
  • ·Failing to manage their stress levels anyone can build up emotions and implode inside; thus anyone can become a walking time bomb.

I use the “walking time bomb” metaphor to illustrate how current levels of stress in our culture, and our lack of effective tools for addressing and healing it is a growing dilemma. We’ve all seen news stories of people who suddenly snap and explode in violence. But far more common are the lesser, often preventable “stress explosions” of recurring headaches, anxiety, obesity, depression, high blood pressure, addictions, heart attacks, strokes, road rage, relationship conflicts, high divorce rates and more.

Here’s what Dr. Lissa Rankin in her book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourselfsays. “As far as your nervous system is concerned, stress is anything that triggers the amygdale in your primordial limbic system to activate the “fight-or-flight” stress response. And whenever this happens, your body’s natural self-repair mechanisms- the ones that help prevent heart disease, fight cancer, ward off infection, and assist in anti-aging- get flipped off.  As far as your body’s health is concerned, thoughts, beliefs, and feelings that trigger the stress response may damage your health more than a poor diet, avoiding exercise, bad habits, and sleep deprivation. But the good news is that the opposite is also true! Because your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings are at least partially under your control, you have the power to switch off your body’s stress responses and return the nervous system to the health-inducing relaxation response that activates the body’s natural self repair”

We all have ways of managing the stress of everyday life. What we don’t always take into account is the impact our coping strategies—both conscious and unconscious—have on the body and the mind. When we train ourselves to redirect our attention to listen to our body, an ever-present resource in times of stress, we activate a higher intelligence and calm the reticular activating system in the brain, which flips our fight of flight mechanism into the “on” position when we perceive a threat. Research has shown that body-based mindfulness affords the man or woman who practices it a refined ability to re-direct fearful, angry thoughts and knee-jerk reactions that are counter-productive. We are then, in turn, spared the negative consequences ordinarily associated with habitual coping mechanisms that tend to blindly sabotage us, diverting vital energy that could be better put to use in achieving our goals or expanding our happiness.

Here’s a body/mind intervention tool to address stress on demand before it accelerates.

  1. Shift your attention and unplug from external stimuli in stressful situations.
  2. Observe your breath and scan your body and state—either inwardly or aloud—what you notice.
  3. Choose some corrective body-based action to counteract what has been observed, for example: relax tensed up shoulders or loosen a tight jaw.
  4. Visualize a calming wave in the mind’s eye and get centered.
  5. Focus on the next right-action, priority or focus that is on track with your desired outcomes. Be present and plan to take one action vs. multi tasking.

In a study done at a medical facility, patients who took these steps while hooked up to diagnostic machine, reduced stress on an average of 55% after following these steps.

One More Tip: Empty Your Tank

Our bodies are like storage tanks and when they get too full they need to be emptied or they becomeoverloaded with toxins and stress and get damaged. Using body awareness to check in with your body and empty your tank of stress often creates better health.  Body awareness can also save you from many aches and pains caused by unconsciously tensing areas in your body.  When someone says, ‘I am happy I told my boss what I was holding in for months; I got it all off of my chest,’ they usually feel the heaviness on their chest lighten.  When we take responsibility for listening to the bodies we live in, we take the condition of our health in our own hands.  When we empty our ‘tank’ of stress that comes from toxic memories, thoughts and beliefs, our body’s natural restorative powers kick in and our health improves. So communicate vs. holding it all in. Take a run instead of sitting stewing all bottled up.

Stress Less, Enjoy More.

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