Sunday, December 28, 2014

Creating a Soul Nourishing New Year’s Resolution (The 15 Do’s and Don’ts)

Creating a Soul Nourishing New Year’s Resolution
(The 15 Do’s and Don’ts)

Creating a soul nourishing and sustaining New Year’s Resolution is an ancient art. In fact, New Year’s Resolutions have been around in some form or another since the Babylonians.  As an art form, the New Year’s Resolution has had many years to evolve to a place of accessibility for all. The art form is ready for you and your success. Below is a list of guiding Dos and Don'ts. First, clear a space (see Then, the definition. 

A New Year’s Resolution is a promise to yourself to engage in some form of self-improvement during the New Year. 

Breaking that down:

      (a)  Promise: promise (according to Mariam-Webster): a statement telling someone that you will definitely do something or that something will definitely happen in the future, an indication of future success or improvement, a reason to expect that something will happen in the future;

      (b) Engage: to pledge oneself, promise, to make a guarantee;

      (c)  Self-improvement: improvement of one’s condition through one’s owns efforts;

      (d)  Condition: the circumstances affecting the way in which people live or work, esp. with regard to their well-being (

To craft your soul nourishing New Years Resolution you must-- make (engage in) a promise to yourself in order to improve your own well-being. How do you do this?

There is A LOT of research on how to improve your own well-being. According to research it is very likely that as you improve your well-being, you will be doing a lot of good for others. If you dig into the research articles you will see that well-being has a ton to do with gratitude, giving, generosity, health, and love. So here we go!

1. Do: Build a larger framework for your resolution. 

Everything from a yoga asana (pose) to a home is strongest when built within a solid framework, a solid foundation. For resolutions, it can be very helpful to begin by seeing yourself 5 years down the road. Take your age right now and add 5 years (your age + 5 = X). See yourself at X. What are you doing? Who are you with? What is the weather? What is around you? How do you feel? Set this vision. Get out a journal or a piece of paper and put your vision on paper. Write a paragraph describing your 5 years from now self (X). Create a collage of X. 

Remember, you will be 5 years older in 5 years anyway. So don’t let fear of aging stop you. It is happening. So what kind of 5 years older form of you (X) do you want to be? Doing nothing, holding on to your same patterns is also a plan. Know that. If that is what you want, perfect. If not, make a plan. From this plan, build your goals and then your New Year’s Resolution. 

2. Don’t: Work from an anti-dream, anti-goal, or anti-vision.

Work from what you want to create not what you want to avoid. If you want prosperity, say that. If you want sobriety, say that. If you want contentment, say that. Work from what will be manifested and not what you want to avoid. 

It is always good to have a sense of what you want to avoid (e.g., debt, addiction, alcoholism, etc..). However, to be effective you want to work from a place of creation. For example, as you work toward presence and sobriety, as result you are not drunk and dissociated. On the other hand, if you say, “I will not be anything like my Father,” you are still beholden to the mold. It’s mirror image, still the mold. Create your own vision, something new (I know there are some who say to do this [e.g., work from an anti-vision]. You can if you if you’d like. It won’t be as powerful, creative, or positive). 

You might need to clear a space for your New Year's Resolution- see this post

3. Do: Envision yourself as healthy and strong. 

Healthy is beautiful. Healthy is beautiful. Healthy is beautiful. Healthy is beautiful.

We are completely inundated with media messages telling us that we need to be smaller, thinner, leaner, and-all-that. New Year’s Resolutions and visions based on being smaller or closer to an idealized media image-- backfire. Don’t do it. 

Consider the Health At Any Size Movement. Here is an excerpt from their web-page. 

Let’s face facts. We’ve lost the war on obesity. Fighting fat hasn’t made the fat go away. And being thinner, even if we knew how to successfully accomplish it, will not necessarily make us healthier or happier. The war on obesity has taken its toll. Extensive “collateral damage” has resulted: Food and body preoccupation, self-hatred, eating disorders, discrimination, poor health... Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat. Health at Every Size is the new peace movement. Very simply, it acknowledges that good health can best be realized independent from considerations of size. It supports people—of all sizes—in addressing health directly by adopting healthy behaviors.” An excerpt from Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon, PhD.

4. Don’t: Base your New Year’s Resolutions on deprivation, restriction, and withholding from yourself. It backfires too. 

A good example is dieting. Dieting won’t get you where you want to be. Here is one of the many reviews: Long-term Effects of Dieting: Is Weight Loss Related to Health? A. Janet Tomiyama, Britt Ahlstrom, & Traci Mann (2013)- reference below. 

Worse yet, in the restriction and deprivation you will feel like you are restricted and deprived. Humans hate this. We fight against it. We rebel. And guess what happens by January 15th? Yes, you will have completely ditched all restriction-based resolutions and will be knee deep in your anti-vision. 

5.  Do: Set your sights on a practice that enhances well-being.  

Here are many, many ideas. Choose one or more and set intentions to practice any one or more of these things often. 

      a.     Embodied practices: yoga, running, Tae Kwon Do, etc. 
      b.     Meditation (go here for a great app- I love this one)
      c.      Travel
      d.     Communing with nature (e.g., hiking, bird watching) 
      e.     Commitment to a cause (e.g., the Africa Yoga Project)
      f.      Religious practice 
     g.     Artwork (e.g., draw, take photographs, make mala beads)
     h.     Music- listen, practice, create
     i.      Writing- poetry, blogging, journaling, etc.. 
     j.       Family and friend time
     k.  Set an amazing world changing goal with specifics
     l.      Etc…

6. Don’t: Choose something because you feel like you should. 

Don’t choose the thing you think people will like, approve of, or admire. Pick the thing that makes you excited, the thing you want for you, the thing that makes you feel a feeling all around your heart when you think of it (see [k] above). You were brought to this world for a reason. We need you to manifest the reason for your soul. It will set you on fire. Do that thing.

"If you are what you are meant to be, you will set the whole world on fire."
St. Catherine of Siena

Note: There may be a few small goals you should address first. It's okay, and maybe even good, to start small-- engage in small accomplishable steps (e.g., eating vegetables twice a day, hydrating each day). These smaller goals are the foundational work for larger dreams. Create the foundation first. 

7.   Do: Find a Partner

On August 14, 2009 my sister and I decided that we needed a stronger commitment to daily exercise in our lives. As I write, we are on day 1962 of exercise. We text each other every AM and let each other know our plans. A quick text- done- instant support. 

8. Don’t: Set standards so high and so pure that a human being can’t be successful. 

Weave in struggle. Make promises you CAN keep. Remember my sister and me made a commitment to daily exercise? Well, in the making of our commitment contract we wove in human error. There is room for missteps and life that allows us to pursue this goal and be successful. Here they are. 

      (a)  Each week you get a skip day
      (b)  Every six months you can burn two skip days a week
      (c)  You need only do something physical for 30 minutes and that counts

Given our contract we are nearing 2015 with complete, 100% success. 

Another example- I set a goal 106 days ago to meditate 108 days before the new year. I set guidelines giving room for error (i.e., room for success). Today, December 28, 2014, I have meditated 106 days. I missed two days- yet, I had a make-up rule- that is- I could meditate for twice the amount the next day and not consider missing a set-back. Also, as a stroke of luck- the app I used to calculate the days was 2 days off- so- in all reality- I will have actually meditated 108 days before the new year. Ha!

My husband has a great way of looking at it- he says, "I just need to see someone is trying. That is all that matters." Yep- I have most certainly been trying for 108 days!

9.   Do: Write it down or get an app

Make it yours, own it, and write it down. There are lots of ways to do this. You can use an old-fashioned pen and paper. You can keep a log on your computer, or a blog on the Internet. I put mine in the front cover of my daily planner and on my iPhone- there are apps…. (see below).

“Goal setting involves establishing a plan and creating steps to help you achieve what once was just a dream. Two vital parts of achieving your goals are motivation and habit building. Thankfully there are some apps that will help you create some healthy new habits that will move your life in the right direction to help you achieve your goals. We compare the best ones in this AppGuide.”

10.  Don’t: Automatically Keep your New Year’s Resolution a secret or tell everybody

As an impulse or mindless action, neither of those is a good idea. Your New Year’s Resolution is yours. It is yours to share or keep for as long as you’d like. Choose thoughtfully, mindfully. If you share, choose to share with those who will empower you. Sometimes it helps to hold it close to your heart. I like to do this. I set goals and sometimes-- I don’t tell anyone. It is between me and me (and me and God). After I have accomplished my goal, sometimes I tell my husband or a friend. Sometimes I don’t tell anyone.  This is one of those things that varies person to person. As much as I like to keep things to myself, other people do better when they share their goals. Share goals only with people who will let it be yours. No matter which you choose, make sure it stays your goal and your commitment. 

11. Do: Mix great effort with great rest. 

Make sure you have built restoration and recovery time into your plans. I say this over and over in my yoga classes, “With great effort, take great rest!” You can Google, study, and research any great man or woman and you will see that sustained effort was paired with support and periods of restoration. I have taught the History of Psychology for many years at the University at Buffalo. What I have noticed is that longevity and impact, without tragedy, was paired with a restorative life. The moral of the story, if you want to do great things and have a great life, match great effort with great rest. 

12. Don’t: Make your goals someone else’s job. 

It is so easy to tell a bunch of people, your partner, a best friend what you want to do and then make it their problem to monitor you, remind you, and inspire you. You are giving your success away and people find this annoying (unless they are co-dependent and even then they should not be doing it). It’s your resolution, your job, and your success when you get there. And trust me, it feels amazing to set, work for, and accomplish a goal. 

13Do: Make it concrete

Make your New Year’s Resolution concrete. Do not create broad open-ended New Year’s Resolutions like, “I will love others more” or “I will contribute to world peace.” These are good ideas AND they can also be concrete. For example, “I will love others more” might translate to, “I will call my dad and mom every Tuesday and Thursday to check in and tell them that I love them.” Also, “I will contribute to world peace” might translate to, “I will volunteer to teach yoga at the youth detention center one hour a week.” Those things are real, concrete. 

Like my sister and I did with our exercise plan, we said exactly when it started (that day), how often (6 or more days a week), what (30 minutes or more of physical exercise including walking), and a monitoring system (text each other the workout each day). 

These examples are so specific there is no question of whether happens or not. For my sister and I, sometimes we check on this or that asking if the other thinks that a particular thing counted. Usually we agree that it counts because it meets our basic criteria- 30 minutes of exercise. Please note, we excluded house-cleaning. That does not count- see how clear we are? That is how clear and concrete you need to be. 

14.  Don’t: Base your goals or resolutions on resentment or  showing someone something. 

I did this for a while. I fueled my achievement with anger. Anger is not a half-bad fuel. But it burns dirty. You are left with your achievements in your hands and black smoke everywhere. Goals built on “I will show you” lack the shine, the inner glow, and the love that you see in victories that come from the heart. Work on your anger, process it, and let it go. Then, build your dreams on something more beautiful than anger. 

And this- You might need to clear a space for your New Year's Resolution- see this post

15. Do: It for love

Ah, this is the stuff. LOVE. Build your resolutions and goals on (a) what you love, (b) for love, and, (c) on love of life. Not only will this be more pure and light and beautiful. It will be full of joy and fun. Goals and resolutions built on passion and love…….well that is the stuff of dreams.

This is what I want for you. I want you to accomplish your dreams- one goal, one resolution at a time- from a place of love. So, DREAM ON!

Have fun with these. We get this one shot at life. Make it great. I am. 
Your soul will love you for it. 

"If you are what you are meant to be, you will set the whole world on fire."
St. Catherine of Siena



The Yoga Bag


Long-term Effects of Dieting: Is Weight Loss Related to Health? A. Janet Tomiyama1, Britt Ahlstrom1, Traci Mann2,*;jsessionid=CC1FAF44A3FDD1965B4C69A1EE00684A.f02t04?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false

“Success” in dieting interventions has traditionally been defined as weight loss. It is implicit in this definition that losing weight will lead to improved health, and yet, health outcomes are not routinely included in studies of diets. In this article, we evaluate whether weight loss improves health by reviewing health outcomes of long-term randomized controlled diet studies. We examine whether weight-loss diets lead to improved cholesterol, triglycerides, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and fasting blood glucose and test whether the amount of weight lost is predictive of these health outcomes. Across all studies, there were minimal improvements in these health outcomes, and none of these correlated with weight change. A few positive effects emerged, however, for hypertension and diabetes medication use and diabetes and stroke incidence. We conclude by discussing factors that potentially confound the relationship between weight loss and health outcomes, such as increased exercise, healthier eating, and engagement with the health care system, and we provide suggestions for future research.

Friday, December 12, 2014

“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good:” I Yelled.....

And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good:” I Yelled
John Steinbeck, East of Eden

This morning I lost my temper.

I did not see it coming. I got up early to make lunch and dinner for my newly vegetarian daughters, put the return addresses on Christmas cards, practice yoga, and get ready for a day of private practice.

One of my daughters approached me to borrow yoga pants. After a series of words exchanged-

I yelled.

I yelled and then slammed a door…..

and began to cry.

When I was pregnant, I told myself- “Catherine- you will never hit, spank or otherwise lay a hand on your children. You will never yell at them. Ever. You will parent from a grounded, rational place that teaches and models effective coping and mental health.”

I said that and I meant it.

To this day, I have never physically disciplined my children. For the most part, I have not yelled much (much...)- I have done some loud complaining for sure. My kids would argue that my “loud complaining” was in fact yelling. However, providing a clear basis for distinction- on several occasions, I have in fact yelled.

One of my really proud moments (sarcasm here) was Christmas shopping about 5 years ago. My children were tired and having a hard time. We had to leave the mall- with much left to do. I was extremely frustrated and pretty mad. Once we were in the “silence chamber” of the car- I began to fully express my frustration. Catching myself and exasperated, I finally yelled to my daughters, “I want you to listen to this Christmas music. I hope you listen hard and think about yourselves. Think about what you have done.” And then I turned the Christmas music up really loud.

Yes. We drove home with me mad. The girls in the back seat- trying not to cry or laugh or something in between. When I was little, at times like this, we (my brothers and sisters) would cast knowing looks at each other thinking, “Okay, Mom lost it.”

My daughters still tease me about that ride home to this day. “Mom, remember when you yelled at us and then blasted the Christmas music telling us to think about ourselves?”

“Yes, Yes I do remember that. One of my proudest moments.”

Back to today.

So, yeah. I yelled.

Right away I was sorry. And then I wanted to blame and rationalize why I yelled and why it was okay. Then, I felt sorry again.

I felt like a lie. Like a giant hypocrite.

I do not want to yell, ever. I don’t want a house with yelling in it. I want a house with love, thoughtfulness, and learning in it. Teenagers are teenagers. They always have been and always will be exactly what they are. I said above that I did not see it coming- how could I not? I have two teenagers. Frustration, challenge, and moments of great connection and beauty are always randomly, unexpectedly, and predictably around any corner.

Still, my intention holds true. No matter what comes my way- I don’t want to yell. I don’t like the way I feel before, during or after. It is not effective. And it is not consistent with who I am working to be or who I am when I feel integrated and effective.

The very hardest part was that I still had a yoga practice to complete. My children had left for school- avoiding me.

I did not want to practice yoga. I wanted to feel aligned with the horrible feeling that I was having. I had passing thoughts that if I practiced, I was pretending to be someone I was not.

I rolled out my mat and practiced ANYWAY (I put that in caps because that is how it felt- loud- ANYWAY). I did many, many sun salutations and let the energy of the morning move through me. I then let myself do any postures and movement that felt right, that felt like what I needed. It was a compassionate practice.

I felt kind to myself afterword.

It was then time to make things right. Apologize. No excuses. No rationalizations.

I sent my daughters this text, “I am sorry I yelled. I don’t want to be a person who yells and slams doors. It is not my intention or what I want. No excuses. I will work hard to be the person I want to be.”

And I will.

And now that I have taken a step back from all-or-nothing perfect……
I have a chance to be good.


Catherine Cook-Cottone

The Yoga Bag

Saturday, December 6, 2014

I Need Help! I Can’t Meditate! 10 Simple Tips for Your Meditation Practice

I Need Help! I Can’t Meditate!
10 Simple Tips for Your Meditation Practice

So, you say you want to meditate? You hear all of the good things about it and then you sit down and …… ugh.

I had the same experience. Most of the struggle came from me trying to make it more complicated than it is and failing to cultivate the steady, patient practice that allows for the benefits to grow.

Metaphor: My house feels like my home because I live here. It does not feel like my home because I bought it. Buying the house is not sufficient. I eat, pray, and love here. Over and over again, hour after hour. I live here. It is the time and practice I have spent that creates the feeling of home. My house is my home because I live here.  

The same is true for your meditation practice. You can make mala beads, buy a timer, and get a fancy meditation pillow (those things are all fun). Still, meditation won’t feel like home until you live there- until you spend time there- lots of time.

One day- after many, many sessions- and it will be subtle- your meditation practice will start to feel like home- safe, calming, a respite- a secure base- all due to your practice. Your practice will become your home because you live there.

Here are your tips for meditation practice:

  • One: Start small. Begin with 2 minutes and stay there until you crave more. DO NOT ADD because you have a goal or feel like your practice is not good enough because it is not more. WAIT- WAIT until you crave more. Then, add a few minutes. Maybe you meditate for 5 minutes, for 5 months, for 5 years- perfect. Small, accomplishable steps are the recipe for sustainability. 

  • Two: Go slow. Add to your practice slowly. This one is a close neighbor to “start small.” It is worthy of its own mention due to its importance. I often see people begin on the path with such velocity that they crash and burn. I get excited too. This stuff is wonderful. And- we need to think about a careful integration of these awesome practices into our lives and- once again- sustainability. Leave yourself wanting more and energized by your practice (not overwhelmed by unsustainable goals).

  • Three: Get an app. The Insight Timer is my favorite- go here to download. A meditation app lets you time your practice, provides gentle bells at 1 minute intervals (if you choose), has recordings of many guided meditations, and a community of meditators to support you. They also offer charts and graphs so you can track you progress. An app can be a huge support tool.

  • Four: Find a geographic space. Find a space in your home that you can set up for meditation. It should be quiet, cultivate a sense of calmness, and be easily accessible for you- yet- private for you. When my children were very little- the hot tub was the only place I could get 10 minutes of alone time (as it turned out, it is not a bad place to meditate). So, find your spot.

  • Five: Find a temporal space. Find a space in your schedule. Lock it into your routine. One of the biggest roadblocks to a regular meditation practice is finding the time in your daily routine. Carve out the time. I recommend a Plan A and a Plan B. This way, each day you have two times that it could actually happen.

  • Six: Don’t decide- do. Make meditation part of your routine. Do not ask yourself, “Should I meditate today?” Rather, ask yourself, “When is the best time for me to meditate?” Asking the “Should I….” question sets the stage for skipping. You will save substantial volitional energy just simply doing it.

  • Seven: Focus on an object. Once you are sitting and your timer is on, find an object for your focus. It could be your breath. Breath is a wonderful starting place (and continuing place). You can choose a mantra- a saying (or word) that you repeat over and over to align your thoughts and attention (see here You can light a candle. You can use a guided meditation. The object gives your mind an anchor that you can keep coming back to.

  • Eight: Witness and shepherd. This is it- the big reason we meditate- to be the witness. Being the witness allows you distance, space between what happens- (a) your external stimuli (e.g., events, people, and triggers), (b) your internal stimuli (e.g., thoughts, feelings, and physiological experiences) and (c) your reactions to them. You simply watch where your mind goes. Then, without judgment shepherd it back to your object of focus (e.g., the breath, the mantra, the candle, etc..). You notice that you keep thinking about work- interesting- then back to breath. You notice you keep thinking about grocery shopping- interesting- then back to your mantra. You notice that you keep going back to memories- interesting- then back to the candle. That is all. Witness and shepherd. It is a practice- no goals- no right- no wrong- just a practice. You are creating space- room to cultivate you.
  • Nine: Impermanence, not-suffering, and not-self. As you witness and shepherd- you will notice these things.

Cook-Cottone, The Yoga Bag

Impermanence. Everything is impermanent. You, me, our thoughts, our feelings, events, passions, drama, all of it- impermanent- and that is okay. In fact, the steadiness that we bring to witnessing impermanence is incredibly grounding and empowering. We sit like a pebble at the bottom of a riverbed and watch the water and debris go by- nestled in and steady.

Not- suffering. You will notice that life is inevitably painful and that there is, often, no way to avoid the pain. You will also notice that suffering is optional. I think it is in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) that they say that “There is no problem a drink won’t make worse” ( This saying get’s to the core of not-suffering- yes- life can be very hard and painful- still- our reactions to the hard parts of life can either make things more manageable or more painful. We have a choice about whether or not we will add suffering to the inevitable pain.

Suffering comes from judgment, attachment, and avoidance. As you meditate you will notice the tendency to judge things as pleasant and unpleasant, as good or bad. Then (because you are a human being) you will want to avoid or attach to them. These are the seeds of suffering. Like in the AA saying- the problem is there- trying to avoiding it by drinking is what makes it worse. As we meditate we notice the labels (good/bad, pleasant/unpleasant), our reactions to them (the drive to attach/avoid), and we simply sit- witnessing, learning to really see and know ourselves, and shepherding.

Not-self. All the stuff that goes on in your brain and your emotional self are not necessarily you. You are the self you choose to cultivate. If bitter thoughts arise- does that make you a bitter person to your core? Or do you notice the bitter thoughts and choose how you’d like to respond? Your noticing and choosing is your character- not what arises. It is not you. The stuff that arises comes from everywhere- the media, your parents, the things some kid who was struggling in 5th grade yelled at you- they are not you. You choose you. Your meditation practice gives you time to see what comes up, to notice, and practice letting it be. You begin to know- in a felt sense- that you get to choose what is- you- and what will not be you.

  • Ten: Be perfectly, imperfect. Do the nine things above and then YOU WILL FAIL. Yep- 100% guaranteed- something will happen- something will get in your way- you will forget, mess up, lose your intention, or any of 100 million other things that get us off track.

You will fail 100% guaranteed. AND……


Yep- be gloriously imperfect and re-start. Each re-start will be a bit stronger, a bit wiser- and a bit more powerful. Each re-start will stand on the shoulders of all of your other tries- taller and bigger.

So- get started today. Do it! I am excited for your journey, your failures, your re-starts, and the wonderful changes you will see as your practice becomes your home- your secure base.


Catherine Cook-Cottone

The Yoga Bag

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Coping with Things You Think You Can’t Handle: Twelve Tools to Get You Through

Coping with Things You Think You Can’t Handle:
Twelve Tools to Get You Through

I remember in eighth grade when the doctor told my mom, dad, and me that my baby brother Stephen had Down Syndrome. That day I had gotten out of school early and my dad took me with him to see the baby. As a result, I ended up hearing the news at the same time as my dad. It may have been the first time for my mom too. My memories of that moment are altered. Time was slow. I was watching my parents more than listening to the doctor. My mom was crying, my dad stoic. I heard things like trisomy 21 and mental retardation. Something shifted. The way my brain processed input was altered for a while. I was 13 and completely overwhelmed.

We knew nothing about Down Syndrome (read more here

When dad and I got home, he told my sisters and brother. I remember that we all held each other and cried. We had no idea what this meant- at all. As it turns out, my bother Stephen is an amazing human being. Everyone who knows him loves him. It was going to be okay, even better than okay.

Stephen Cook 

This was, however, one of my first experiences with unexpected, overwhelming, and soul-wrenching news that I honestly wasn’t sure I could handle. As life is the way it is there would be (and will be) more times like this. For example, we moved many times when I was little, before the Internet and Facebook- back then- you literally lost many of your friends when you moved. My grandparents have passed. My swim coach from middle and high school, a test pilot in the military, was suddenly killed in a plane crash. My highschool boyfriend that I thought I would marry, wasn’t ready for that (and I found out the hard way). I left my first marriage. I have lost beloved pets. When I was pregnant with Maya, the doctors told us there was the possibility that she might have Down Syndrome (days later we found out that she didn’t). My mom has been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. Life altering stuff has happened. And, this is not all of it (some things simply must be kept private and sometimes those ones are the hardest).

I am not special.

You have these moments too.

The hard part for me is that these are not discrete moments. It is not like they happen one moment and then they are gone, passed. Your life changes.  The result is prolonged periods of intense feeling and processing. I have experienced them to last many months- during which there are penetrating, stop-you-in-your-tracks waves of powerful feelings. There are also waves of remembering the way things used to be and awareness of exactly how much things have changed. This contrast hits you, yeah it hits you, as a sharp, hard reminder of how your life has changed. These hits are accompanied by images, thoughts, and breath-taking, literally breath-taking, waves of emotions.

The thoughts that run through my mind include these particularly hard ones, “I don’t know if I am ever going to feel okay again” and “I wonder if I will ever be authentically happy again.” Know that these questions do not signify reality (i.e., you are never going to feel okay or happy again). Rather, they let you know where you are. They are signposts. When you see these signposts, you are in a hard place and you need support.

Here are some tips on how to get out of your hard place. These are not make-it-better tips. They are not escape tips. They are- THE WAY OUT IS THROUGH tips.

  • Look for those who have made it and lock your eyes on them.

By the time my brother Stephen had grown a bit and was doing well in school, my mom went back to school to get her teaching degree. Sharing the writing gene, she wrote about our family experiences and the birth of Stephen. She wrote about Stephens’ birth and meeting a woman who also had a son with Down Syndrome. Her name was Eileen Hyslop. Mom reached out to her. Eileen generously talked to my mom at length and later became her dear friend. My mom described how that first day on the phone, she could barely hear what Eileen was saying because she just heard her laugh, from the belly, from the soul, an authentic, happy laugh. The sound of that laugh gave my mom hope. My mom thought for the first time, in a long time, that maybe she would, in fact, feel okay again and maybe, in fact, she would laugh, a real laugh again. Find those who have made it through and lock your eyes on them.

  • Let your friends and family be there.

The days after I told my partner of seven years that I was leaving were some of the hardest days of my life. I knew he deserved to be with someone who loved him completely and I knew I needed to leave. That did not mean that I didn’t love him very much. I did and leaving him was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I was floored by the feelings that followed. One night, I felt as if I could not bear to exist. I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t know if I could handle being present in all I was feeling. My dear friend Lissa came over to my place with a novel in hand. The television was off, no music, just me curled up on the couch and Lissa sitting on the chair next to me reading. I didn’t know the story. To this day, I have no idea what she was reading. Still, the sound of her voice and knowing I was not alone, got me through one of the hardest nights of my life. I will be forever grateful. Reach out to the people in your life, your sisters and brothers, family, good friends- those that won’t mind sitting and reading to you while you work on breathing.

  • Listen to the stories and perspectives of others.

This one was my daughter Chloe’s contribution. When I asked her what she does to get through the seemingly unbearable, she said she reaches out to others to get their perspective. She said that when she is too deep in something, she loses perspective and only sees one side. When she reaches out and listens, she hears other perspectives and possibilities. It has a balancing effect. She says it gets her closer to what is really happening and out of her reaction. I guess old souls can be 16 year-old girls. With a similar intention, the year I turned 40 I re-storied my whole life in a series of journals. I interviewed my husband, my parents, my siblings, and my friends and got their stories of my life. I detailed things that made no sense to me when I was little and asked very specific questions. All the notes are in journals that I still hold precious today. This process was incredibly healing and “self”-organizing. I learned so much about my own perceptions as well as the sides of stories that perhaps I could never have known or understood as a kid. Not surprisingly, I was out-and-out wrong about more than a few things. The whole process made me stronger, deeper, more connected and integrated.

  • Routine is your friend.

When my Grandpa Cook died it hit me hard. He was the first of my grandparents to pass. He meant a lot to me. He was a teacher to me on topics ranging from how to recover from an eating disorder to maintenance of healthy daily routines. I somehow felt safe just thinking about him digging around his garden, making insane smoothies, and sitting and reading. To get through his death, I stuck to my routine. I went to school. I went to work. I ran (no yoga yet in my life at this time). My routine was my anchor. I said to myself, “Work is still here,”School is still here,” and “Daily runs are still here.”  Things had changed substantially and yet so much was going to stay the same. I found great comfort in that.

  • Use your planner, calendar, or other scheduling support technology.

In the research world, these are called cognitive prosthetics (or neuro-prosthetics). Considered a tool for improved functioning, technologies can help you “think” just as a prosthetic leg can help someone who has lost a limb walk. For example, researchers are exploring ways that technological tools can help those with Alzheimer’s function day-to-day. How does this relate? When we are completely overwhelmed, we are at high risk for flaking out. Under stress, your brain is flooded with stress hormones and there is actual risk for cognitive impairment. Use your tools and give your brain a break so that it can process what you are experiencing. You can enhance the process by adding in reminders to do deep breathing exercises or reminders of positive affirmations (e.g., an auto-reminder pops up to say, “You are stronger than you think you are. Breathe”). Technology is a powerful tool for mental health.

  • Let your feelings move through you and breathe- breathe deeply.

You can’t think your way out of some things. It is simply not possible. When someone dies, you can’t fix it, think about it differently, nothing like that. It is loss, pure loss. It can’t be fixed. You can try to think your way out of it- that path takes you into loops of rumination- because it doesn’t really work. The feelings demand to be felt. As they wave in, allow them. Put one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart. Feel. Deepen your breath and stay present. These feelings are called emotions, e-motions- packets of energy and information (i.e., /e/) that move through you (i.e., /motion/). They tell us what matters. They remind us what is important. They move us. Allowing and presence is needed for integration and processing of what has happened. It’s a necessity. That said, take breaks. Alternate sessions of being totally and completely in it with periods of support, friends, and healthy distractions. When you are ready, allow again. That old saying is true, “In order to heal, we need to feel.”

  • Stay Sober.

There is another old saying (from Alcoholics Anonymous), “Nothing is so bad a drink won’t make it worse.” You don’t need to be an alcoholic to benefit from that wisdom. Your brain and soul need to be sober to process important things in your life. If you take yourself out with alcohol or drugs during the hard times, you rob yourself of the chance too honor the tragedy, loss, or important life event with pure, sober presence. Equally important, if you drink, or use, every time you start to feel, it is difficult, if not impossible to move forward. You get stuck. It bears repeating, that old saying is true, “In order to heal, we need to feel.”

  • Write, write, write.

Writing about hard times can help you heal (read a Psychology Today Piece here James Pennebaker, a researcher on the mental health benefits of writing, found that when individuals write about difficult events in their lives, include specific details, and integrate their emotional experiences, they experience increased physical and emotional well-being (read about James Pennebaker here For me, writing in my journal, writing a blog, or any writing at all are ways for me to move thoughts and ideas through me. I love giving seemingly free-floating emotions a home on a page- whether it be a webpage or a hand-made journal page. My emotions seem to do better with a good home. Write, write, write.

  • Seek out nature.

Nature is medicine. Researchers are confirming what we all already know: getting into nature is grounding, spiritually uplifting, and healthy. I believe so strongly in this that I run to a local waterfall on a regular basis. If I don’t get there once a week, I feel it in my body. I love hearing the water rush over the rocks. I love seeing the trees grow and shed their leaves, hearing the snow crunch under my feet in the winter, and smelling the flowers in the spring. I love the birds, squirrels, and ducks that live there. Once when we were in the midst of moving, I ran to the falls in a state of exasperation with the unpacking. Sweaty, exhausted, I walked up to see the falls, and rested my hands and chin on the safety fence. At that moment, I saw the most beautiful thing. A blue heron was standing at the base of the falls dipping his bill in the water and then looking up to the sky. Somehow, I knew in that movement that everything was going to be okay. I didn’t take a picture. I hold the image of that heron clearly in my memories embedded with feelings of calm security. Yep, nature heals.

  • The next possible thing.

When I was an undergraduate, I did not love to clean my apartment. I would be busy on swim team, school, and work and get over my head with housekeeping. One Saturday morning I woke up knowing I had to get my apartment in order. It had gone too far and something had to be done. I felt frozen by the sheer magnitude of what I had to accomplish. I asked myself, “Catherine, what is the next possible thing you can do?” I answered, “You can put your feet on the floor and get out of bed.” I answered myself, “Yes, yes that seems possible.” And so it began. I asked myself if I could get this cup, this one cup, to the kitchen sink and I answered myself that I could, in fact, do that. One little, tiny thing at a time, I got my apartment clean. This strategy has come to serve me in postpartum after a spinal headache and complicated recovery. It came to serve me for many, many days when I was terrified that I would not get tenure (I did). It served me writing my last book (e.g., “I can write this section, just this section”). In Alcoholics Anonymous they talk about one day at a time. For me, on some days, that is too big. I ask, “What is the next possible thing you can do?” That’s it. Do that.

  • Schedule pleasant events.

Since the 1980s, researchers have been documenting the benefits of scheduling pleasant events. It is important that you see the two aspects of this tool: (a) schedule, and (b) pleasant event. Each component is important. In fact, planning the pleasant event (e.g., a vacation) may have as much, or more, of a benefit than the actual pleasant event. Read the New York Times piece on the benefits of planning vacation Next, the pleasant event is- well- pleasant. You don’t need to earn it or deserve it. It is just healthy to do fun and nourishing things. I love to go for a run in nature or hike. I love to go in our hot tub. I love to cuddle in by the fireplace and write blogs. I love teaching yoga. I love group runs with friends. I love yoga trainings (my brother said that I need to admit this is yoga camp for grown-ups- I say training makes it sound legit). I plan “trainings” and travel. I have been saving for and planning a trip to Italy for almost 5 years. I hope to go this year, completely paid-for, no credit card debt, and learn to cook authentic Italian meals in all different regions. Just thinking about it makes me happy. (Go here for a list of pleasant events

  • Practice and all is coming.

When I found out my mom had Pulmonary Fibrosis, I deepened my yoga practice. I recall sobbing in savasana with Susan Fain, the yoga teacher, playing “Awaken My Soul” as she gently pressed my shoulders to the floor (thank God for towels over the eyes). Practice yoga, run, swim, or whatever physical practice centers you. The act of being in your body and moving is essential and powerful. Recall the section on emotions needing to move?  You need to move too. You move, the emotions move, and integration of even the hardest of stuff happens. Unlike substance use, a practice that allows you to feel your body and your feelings allows the impact of hard times move through you. Warning: each of these physical practices, if done with the wrong intention- can work just like alcohol or drugs. You can use your yoga, your running, your swimming to numb out the feelings- and if you do- well- re-read the section on staying sober. It’s not a step forward. So move- YES- and move with the intention of feeling and processing. Now, that will serve you.

Catherine Cook-Cottone, 2013

So there you are: the twelve tools. The way out is through and getting through can be manageable. It is not easy, but it can be simple- stay present and process- and know you and your beautiful life are worth the effort. Your ability to stay present and move through the experience is a way of honoring those involved.

It is a way of honoring the journey of your own soul.

I hope you choose the path of presence. You are stronger than you think and life is more beautiful than we can remember in the midst of the hard times.

The way out is through.


Catherine Cook-Cottone
The Yoga Bag