Sometimes you just have to cry.

There isn’t a single one amongst us who doesn’t have a reason to cry right now. I won’t go through the list of things because what I have lost will be different from what you have lost and what you have lost will be different from what your grandparents have lost. And when we lose things we care about, and when we are completely up against a wall of futility, it’s so easy to go off in search of a great distraction. However, that won’t take us where we really do want to be. Feeling soft and tender and like ourselves again is so much better than feeling distracted, and the only way to get there is to let some tears flow. The single best way to do that is to cry in the presence of a family member who totally gets us, but if that isn’t possible right now then writing, painting or dancing out the sadness can often bring just the right number of tears to heal us. I know this for certain. Just before supper one night last week I read a simple story about a woman crying in a grocery store and the tears that had been inside me since the middle of March welled up, spilled over and made me feel a whole lot better!

Here’s a poem by Philomene Kocher that says it best:

rain washes the dust

from the bus window

and I can see

more clearly

what tears do


Want to know some of the science behind this?

I have spoken before about the sympathetic nervous system being activated when we are agitated. When we cry there is a whole host of bodily functions that change as the parasympathetic nervous system takes over and gives us that wonderful relief that comes from a good cry. The emotionally-induced tears we shed are a different chemical composition than the tears that normally keep our eyes moist; they contain hormones that build connection to the person we are crying with, they act as a natural pain reliever and flush the stress hormones from our systems.

Hunkered-down Groundhogs


The last time I wrote about groundhogs it was when they were digging for all they were worth to get away from the madness of the squirrel. Under the circumstances that was a healthy thing for the groundhog to do. However, it is possible for all of us, when day after day is filled with the same old news, same old people, same old boring conversations, to just want to find a good old hole and stay there…forever. It’s the “forever” that’s a problem. Retreating to a nice warm hole is good now and then; it’s when we don’t have an ounce of energy to pull ourselves out of it that it’s a problem.

Fortunately all it takes is a few minutes to give our systems a chance to take in a little comfort that makes it ok enough to poke our little noses out into the afternoon sunshine and smell the breeze wafting over the new shoots of clover.

Option 1 – Ask yourself, “Who in my extended family ‘gets me’ most?” Once you’ve got that person (grandparent, aunt, uncle) in mind give them a call. Yes, a phone call, or better still a video call. That’s so you can have a real, live conversation that will make you feel better than a kazillion texts. Ask them to tell you about a time when they overcame a difficult situation, or just chat.

Option 2 – Here’s an exercise I mentioned for earlier for squirrels. It also works for groundhogs but I’ll explain that in the science section.

Brain Stem Release – This is also a simple exercise. It involves clasping your hands behind the head and then holding your gaze off to both the left and right sides of your body. Please see the following video

Option 3 – Right there in your little hole do some simple stretching. If you think you can do 5 min. of it here’s a link: Don’t let the word “yoga” throw you off. These are just stretches and “yin yoga” is just a form of stretching that is absolutely perfect to start with. If you feel a little better when you finish, go for a walk to the end of your block and back, but only if you want to.


Want to know some of the science behind this?

We’re going back to the Autonomic Nervous System and the Polyvagal Theory in particular. The vagus nerve is the super nerve of the body. It runs from the brain to the intestines and impacts the heart and lungs along the way. “Poly” stands for many, or in this case, the three bundles of fibres playing three different roles in the vagus nerve. The first bundle (Sympathetic) is ready for fight or flight. The second (Dorsal Vagal) activates the immobility response which may include feelings of overwhelm, helplessness and paralysis. The third (Ventral Vagal) is the most recently evolved system which exists only in humans and mammals. It supports our ability to be socially engaged and comfortable in our own skins. When we are hunkered-down groundhogs we have an over abundance of dorsal vagal activity.

Option 1 – By talking with someone in our family who “gets us” we are stimulating our Ventral Vagal nerve. But here’s the kicker – texting doesn’t soothe the system the way talking with a loved one does. One study that supports this had placed teenagers in stressful situations then had one group text their parents, while the other group called their parents on the phone. Only the ones in the group who called had lower levels of stress hormones in their blood.

Option 2 – The Brainstem Release creates better movement in the neck, which improves the circulation of blood to the brainstem. This in turn improves the function of the ventral branch of the vagus nerve.

Option 3 – Movement, especially if it is rapid, activates the sympathetic branch of the vagus nerve. So going for a run is the best way to get out of a hunkered-down groundhog state, but that is an AWFUL LOT to ask when you have zero energy, so just go easy on yourself and stretch just a little to see if that makes you feel a tad better. Then tomorrow stretch just a little more.

Sprint Through Your Schoolwork, Part 2

Still having trouble starting your school work?

Tip 1 – Starting – If you haven’t started with one block of 25 min. like I had suggested in the last post, don’t be alarmed. STARTING is ALWAYS the hardest. Once you get going it will be so much easier. Ask yourself what’s the maximum length of time you can tolerate…15 min, 5 min? It doesn’t matter, just start and promise yourself you only have to work for the length of time you set on your timer and then give yourself a little treat, like a bit of chocolate, when you pull it off. Then next time, extend it a few more minutes.

Tip 2 – Standing – Stand at least as often as you sit while you are working on school work. This helps keep your mind alert and gives you a sense of being in charge. If you have a very firm sofa pillow (or a little balance board) you can stand on at the same time, all the better, as balancing keeps the whole brain even more alert. (An ironing board makes a great adjustable desk!)

Tip 3 – Music – If you like to listen to music while you study, consider listening to the type of “60 Beats per Minute” music that appeals to you.

Tip 4 – Mind Maps – If you are memorizing facts or studying for exams consider making mind maps with pieces of paper on the floor. Then walk around the mind map saying out loud the details you are studying.

For example: Start in the centre and state the central topic. Then move to each corner… upper left hand corner, saying the information out loud, repeating it a few times before moving to another corner.

Clock face patterns can also helpful… moving around the clock at first starting at 1.  Then just randomly recall what information was listed or drawn ( or a combination of both) at any number, to test your memory.

If you add in colour on the branches of the mind map you be placing the content in a network of brain files for easier recall.  (From Linda Ness of 3D Brain in Kitchener, Ontario.)


Want to know some of the science behind this?

Tip 1 – It’s simply a law:  Newton’s First Law of Motion, “An object at rest remains at rest, or if in motion, remains in motion at a constant velocity unless acted on by a net external force.”

Tip 2 – Our brain and body needs to know at all times where it is located in space, so to achieve this proprioception neurons throughout our brain and spinocerebellar tract are constantly picking up and relaying information. The more stimulated they are, the more stimulated all of their neighbouring neurons are. So, if the proprioception neurons are busier when you are standing than when you are slumped on your bed, your brain will be more capable of being busy too. Additionally, when your body finds its balance point, the vestibular (balance) system is balanced. This better enables the brain to take in sensory input in a more organized way.

Tip 3 – Music at 60 beats per minute corresponds with the heart rate when it is relaxed, thus creating a mind that is alert, yet calm. However, it’s important that you’re listening to a type of music you like. This alters the connectivity between the auditory brain areas and the hippocampus, a region responsible for memory and social emotion consolidation.

Tip 4 – With this method, not only are you using the proprioception and the vestibular system you are using when standing on a hard pillow or balance board, but you are also adding additional sensory input by adding colour and muscle memory.

Coming up this week: How to with your Inner Groundhog. If you’d like these sent to your inbox, click the orange “Follow” blog button)

Sprint through your Schoolwork…

…and have more free time!

I’m guessing you don’t want to spend all your waking hours working on school work, and your teachers don’t want you to either! Here’s a super simple technique that has helped me write 3 books.

Note: What some kids like to do is to invite a friend to do this in their own space at the same time. Then it’s like running a race – you are much more likely to complete it if your friend is running with you.


  1. Find the best spot to work where you won’t be interrupted. (Your bed is not the best spot, but if it’s the only place you have, go for it. I can explain more on that at another time.)
  2. Set up the resources you need:

Laptop__ School Notes __ Text books__ Pen__ Paper__ Phone and favourite studying playlist__ (yes, phone! You didn’t think I was going to say that, did you?)

  1. Do a quick check on what your teachers have assigned and make a short list on a piece of paper.
  2. Quickly number the list in order of importance. (The subject you need to improve the most might be a good place to start.)
  3. Find out exactly what you need to do for the first task and get that ready. (eg. Turn to page x and find the questions you are to do.)
  4. If you are in high school, set a timer for 25 minutes (if you are younger set it for a shorter length of time eg. 15 – 20 min.) and put your phone on the far side of the room. Before you leave it there put it on airplane mode.  (I know it’s painful, but you will thank me in the end because you’ll have way more time for your friends once this is finished.)
  5. Start your playlist*, start the timer and work as quickly and effectively as you can without a single interruption until the timer goes off.
  6. Get up and move for 5 min. (run up and down the stairs a few times, stretch, get something to eat etc.)
  7. Check your work. Do you need to keep working on the first task, or is it time to jump over to another subject?
  8. Without looking at your phone (I know it’s not easy, but challenge yourself) set the timer for another 25 min. and work as fast and effectively as you can for another sprint.
  9. Take another 5 min. break and do #9 and #10 again. This is most likely the last sprint you will need to do because you have most likely achieved more in these three sprints than in 3 hrs of continuous work!
  10. If you are finished your work, go to #13 before closing up for the day. If you aren’t, take a longer break of 20-30 min before the next burst.
  11. SUPER IMPORTANT – Make a list of exactly where you need to start tomorrow, so you won’t have to waste any of your new-found free time!


This method is called the Pomodoro Technique and can give you hours of guilt-free free time! For more see:

What’s a pomodoro? A tomato in Italian. The man who created this method had a timer that was shaped like a tomato.

(Coming up in the next few weeks…How to work with your Inner Groundhog and How to Sprint Through, (and do well on), Your School Work! If you’d like these sent to your inbox, click the orange “Follow” blog button)

Rocking – It’s Not Just For Babies

Rocking Soothes Your System

Here’s another super simple way to calm the nervous system: rock your body, from side to side like your parents did when you were little, or forward and back in a rocking chair or swing in your yard. Do this for 10 min per day. If you do it before bed you will fall asleep faster, have deeper sleep and improve your long-term memory at the same time!

Want to know some of the science behind this? Our brains are wired to respond to rocking – that’s why your parents automatically did it for you when you were a baby. Without even knowing it they were stimulating your vestibular system, the organs of your inner ear which coordinate movement with balance.

If you want to know more, or want to see a clip of a young adult in a rocking bed, go to:


Years ago I was walking through a barn when I saw the word “Duck” written on a beam. As I walked to the far end of the barn my mind thought about Muscovy Ducks which at that time were used around livestock as a natural fly control. Then I thought about Mallard Ducks and how unbelievably remarkable the iridescent blues and teals of their feathers are, when BAM, I was on my knees clutching the top of my head in agony. “Duck” in this case was not a noun but a verb. It was meant to tell me to duck my head!

Ah, the well-worn thought patterns of our brains and how they can get us into trouble! I thought of this a couple of days ago when I woke up totally and completely annoyed with everything about the world, and truth-be-told, everything about myself. Those well-worn thought patterns were about to become much more well-worn, and in the process, make me much more miserable, except that I knew they were taking me towards a figurative bash on my head…and I stopped. Here’s how I did it. This is a tried and true method developed by South African, Leslie Temple-Thurston. It’s called “Lists”.

  1. Down the left side the paper I wrote (it’s important to do it on paper) in point form, double-spaced, all that was wrong with the world, all that was wrong with me, how things were never going to change…(you get the idea). If you are doing this be certain to wallow as much as you like. You won’t get stuck there, I promise.
  2. Once I felt I had everything possible written down I went through the list, only this time I wrote the opposite word or phrase on the right hand side. (For some negative words I had two or more opposites.)
  3. Once I finished, I read through the list slowly, being certain to notice how different the words on the right felt.
  4. Then I offered the whole mess up to “The Intelligence” – whatever that force is that makes the Mallards return to this miserable brown landscape, or what made an embryo develop into the unique and marvellous you that you are! Whatever you want to call that force, that’s what I offered it up to, knowing in that moment I had done all I could do to untangle my thoughts and feelings.
  5. Then I said simply, “Thank you.” And I tell you, I felt a whole lot better.
  6. Sometimes at this point I rip up the papers, so as to not hurt the feelings of anyone who might happen to look at what I have written.

Want to know some of the science behind this? In order to understand the brain you have to look at it in a lot of different ways. It’s a little like when you go to the doctor. They will check your weight, take your temperature and blood pressure, then listen to your heart and lungs. These are all different ways of looking at the same thing, which is your body.

Physically – When we are looking at the physical nature of the brain we could be looking at the overall development of the human brain as I talked about earlier (1st, 2nd and 3rd parts), the function of the two sides (hemispheres), the different parts (pituitary, hypothalamus etc.) and/or the tiny little brain cells (neurons). So you can see this part could get quite complex. At this point let’s just stick with a super simple explanation that comes from Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist, way back in the 70’s and that’s that “neurons that fire together, wire together”. The more I think something, the more entrenched that becomes. If the thought, “My elbow hurts” routinely leads to “I shouldn’t have done x, y, z” to “I’m an idiot” to “I’m so mad at myself”, well that becomes more entrenched till I drive myself either mad, or out of that groove with an exercise like the one I mentioned.

Chemically – The cells of our body (including our brain cells) change according to the environment that is provided for them. If there is a predominance of fight-or-flight chemicals including adrenaline over long periods of time, then the receptors on the cells respond one of two ways: they either create more receptor sites on each cell over time (up-regulation) and the body needs a constant fix at the cellular level to keep things in chemical continuity, or the cells become over-stimulated and desensitized (down-regulation) and they no longer work properly. Neither option is good.

Electrically – Our brains are electrical! Some even say help for our brains resides more in what we do with them electrically, than what we do with them chemically. If I had measured the frequency patterns of my brain when I was ruminating there would have been an excess of 15 -18 hertz (low beta) activity. Stuck in that state I had little access to creative problem solving;  that is until I got it all written down. That allowed for more 8 – 14 hz activity which is associated with feelings of peacefulness and safety.


The Flight of Deer

The deer are on the move and I’ve seen more of them in our fields and in our neighbour’s woods than I have all winter. One day last week I noticed a doe watching me from about 400 m (the length of the track at school). Her neck was stretched sky-ward, her body stock-still, her gaze fixated on me (the potential threat), making my way across the thawing field. Then suddenly she turned and bounded away, her tail bobbing like a large white duster suddenly joined by the smaller white duster of her yearling fawn. Boing, boing, boing they bounded to the end of the field where they both stopped to turn and assess the situation. Satisfied I was no longer a threat, they bounded over the cedar-rail fence where I am certain they gave their whole bodies a mighty shake before resuming their grazing in a relaxed, yet alert state.

Wild animals do that. They cycle back and forth between states of activated vigilance and normal, relaxed activity. But imagine how different it would have been if the yearling’s foot had somehow become trapped and I had continued to walk towards it. Can you imagine how frantic it would have become trying to release itself?

The thing is, those of us who are receiving information about the pandemic minute by minute, hour by hour are not unlike a trapped yearling. The information is perceived by our nervous system as a repeated threat and unless we can do something about it we will most likely find ourselves feeling increasingly more helpless and terrified. But the thing is we can do something about it. Firstly, we can expose ourselves to the events around us in manageable doses. My manageable dose is 2. I can handle an influx of news twice a day.  I know this because anything more takes me out of the state of informed/managed/intelligent concern to being like a trapped deer. We can all reduce our stress levels when we turn off the TV, radio, or social media feeds for chunks of time and reconnect only when we feel we are able to handle it (Visuals of disturbing events impact us significantly because so much of the brain is responsible for visual processing). Secondly, we can use some of the exercises I’ve already mentioned or one of these additional ones:

The Calf Pump

The Calf Pump  (from Brain Gym) – Stand and support yourself with hands on a wall or the back of a chair. Place one leg behind yourself and lean forward and bend the knee of the forward leg. The straight leg and the back should be in a straight line.  At first the heel at the back is off the floor and the weight is on the forward leg. Then the weight is shifted to the back leg as the heel is pressed to the floor. Exhale while pressing the heel down and hold for a count of ten, and then release as you breathe in. Repeat this three times on each side.

Brain Stem Release – This is also a simple exercise. It involves clasping your hands behind the head and then holding your gaze off to both the left and right sides of your body. Please see the following video


Want to know some of the science behind this? Whether someone is coming at us with a club, or we are being bombarded with fear-invoking news, our brains respond the same way with the fight or flight response. The brain produce peptides which turn on the body’s stress response. The body’s stress response signals to the brain to produce more peptides and around and around it goes till we post nasty comments, yell at the nearest person or kick the dog out of the way – all attempts to disrupt the loop and restore balance to our poor fried nervous systems. It’s so much simpler to just not fry the poor thing in the first place by reducing the stresses you are exposed to!

Calf Pump – When a creature (be it a deer or a human) perceives danger the tendons in the feet and lower legs shorten to prepared for running. By pressing down the heel and lengthening the tendon in the calf, you discharge the fear reflex and the muscles can return to their normal tone. You break the feedback loop where the body is telling the brain there is a threat.

More for Your Inner Squirrels

My inner squirrel is doing pretty well the last few days, but I still had a lot of fun doing each of these exercises today. I hope you do too!

A SIMPLE CENTERING EXERCISE* – Stand with your knees bent and pay attention to the connection of your feet to the floor.  Begin to sway, shifting your weight gently from side to side, from foot to foot.  Notice when you feel yourself off balance and coming back into balance by finding the centre of gravity. Keep swaying and notice where in your body you feel centred. You can either keep going in this pattern or switch to moving forward and backward.

TALKING FUNNY** – Press the tip of your tongue against your lower teeth. Relax your tongue so that it’s like a jelly-fish. Now talk about anything at all from funny stuff to everything that is bothering you and let yourself laugh.

YAWNING** – Take a deep breath in. At the top of the breath, open your mouth wide and make yawning sounds. If you don’t have a natural yawn right away, just relax and do it again without trying hard.

JIGGLING** – Stand with your feet about hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Bend and straighten your knees just a little. Repeat over and over until you find a nice jiggling rhythm. Let all your body parts hang loose and flop.


Want to know some of the science behind this?

Talking Funny – This action relaxes the tongue which in turn flexes the palate and dura across the base of the brain to the occiput. As it does that it causes the free flow of the cerebrospinal fluid of the brain and spinal column, making us feel freer, more relaxed and less constrained by our circumstances, and who doesn’t need that.

Yawning – relaxes the throat, plate, upper neck and brain stem. This helps you notice the sensations in your body, increases saliva production, which improves digestion. It also increases the production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps balance your mood by calming you if you are wound up or enlivening you if you are feeling gloomy.  It also helps balance the flow of cerebrospinal fluid which helps to keep the brain and spine flexible. Who knew!

Jiggling – relaxes the joints, pumps the diaphragm and moves our body’s fluids. It also increases energy by stimulating metabolism and loosening us up when we are stiff or rigid.

*From Trauma Through A Child’s Eyes by Peter Levine and Maggie Kline

**Also from Trauma Through a Child’s Eyes, but borrowed from Embodying Well-Being or How to Feel as Good as You Can in Spite of Everything for kids and adults by Julie Henderson

The Inner Squirrels are Back!

OH NO, my Inner Squirrel is running the show again! My mind is racing and my body feels like running in a million different directions.

Fortunately for me I’ve been taught a few more super-easy, mind-stilling body exercises that can bring me back to a calm and focused state and here they are:



HOOK-UPS*– You can either follow these instructions or you go straight to the following:

-You can do these standing, sitting or lying down but will gain the most if you are able to stand (not everyone can – they’ll keel over).

-Cross one ankle over the other

-Cross, clasp and invert your hands by stretching your arms out in front of you, with the back of your hands together and the thumbs pointing down.

-Lift one hand over the other, palms facing and interlock the fingers.

-Roll the locked hands straight down and in towards the body so that they eventually rest on the chest with the elbows down

-Rest the tip of your tongue on the roof of the mouth behind your front teeth

-As long as it’s ok with you, close your eyes and balance for 2 – 5 min.

(You may notice yourself sighing. This is a sign that the squirrel is giving up and calmness is on its way!)


POSITIVE POINTS* – This is my all-time favourite as it reminds me of when my mom used to soothe me by putting the palm of her hand on my forehead.

-Just simply put the palm of your hand on your forehead and leave it there, with your eyes closed for a couple of minutes.

(Again, the squirrel may give a sigh or two with this one)

*These are “Brain Gym” exercises


HORSE LIPS – With your lips nice and loose blow air through them just like a horse would. That’s all there is to it.

(Squirrels who do this together have been known to laugh together.)



Want to know some of the science behind this?

You may have thought you had one brain, but inside you have two more. The first brain (called by different names including Instinctive, Reptilian and Old Brain) we share with birds and reptiles. It is responsible for survival and the many mechanisms that keep us alive. The second brain (also called Mid, Emotional, Limbic and Mammalian Brain) we share with older mammals like dogs, cats, mice and horses. This processes memory and emotion. The third brain (called Thinking, Neocortex and New Brain) is something we share only with primates (monkeys, gorillas etc.) It gives us the ability to plan and helps us have complex social interactions. When we are stressed it’s the first brain that is running the show and we are in survival mode! The following exercises to the rescue:

Hook-Ups – They decrease adrenaline production by bringing attention away from the survival centers of the 1st brain. The crossover action balances and activates the sensory and motor parts of each hemisphere of the 3rd  brain and placing your tongue on the roof or your mouth brings attention to the 2nd brain which is just above the roof of your mouth. Everything together connects the emotions in the 2nd brain to the reason in the 3rd  brain and the squirrel can calm down.

Positive Points – They help us access the 3rd Brain to balance stress around specific memories stored in the 2nd brain around situations, people, places and skills.

Horse Lips – They help loosen the tension around the lips which in turn relaxes the 1st brain.


Spring birds and Breathing

Redwing Blackbird


Since school was cancelled and we were told to stay home, I have to admit I’ve had small moments of fear. Yesterday as I stood above a culvert funneling water from one wetland to a lower one, I closed my eyes and listened to the gurgle of water and the warbles of the newly-arrived spring birds. I felt calmer than I had for days, partially because of the beautiful surroundings, partially because I was with a friend at a healthy distance of 2 m, and partially because she was leading me through an exercise meant to calm my nervous system. She instructed me to take a long breath out, then a long, slow inbreath followed by an even longer outbreath. This I did a second time. Then she told me to notice where I felt tension in my body and to imagine breathing soft baby or puppy breaths to those poor tight spots. She said she set a timer for every ½ hr throughout the day. When it went off she stopped and did what I have just relayed on to you.

Want to know some of the science behind this? Being in nature soothes us. Exercise soothes us and so does being with positive friends but I’ll explain more about that at another time. See the diagram above? As we go through our days our nervous systems cycle through periods of charge (activation) and discharge (deactivation).  A door slams and our systems become more charged. We look up and see that the wind blew it shut and our systems settle down. When we are in the middle of exams, our systems tend to remain activated so that the wave tends to be higher on the y-axis (see, graphing IS something worth knowing!) and although it deactivates when we, say, eat a good meal it never comes as close the x-axis as it does when exams are over and we are lying on a beach in the sun (which I promise you, we will do!). Our systems remain on alert. With this past week’s barrage of alarming news all our nervous systems have remained much higher on the y-axis and even if we are doing fun things, it’s much harder to have a sense of complete discharge and hence relaxation.

But our mind and body can convince our brain to take a break and tell our nervous system to deactivate and the simplest way to do that is to deliberately change our breathing! I did it all day today as I stacked wood and it worked. Despite the grim news I feel the best I have felt since it was first announced that schools would be closed. Wanna give it a whirl?


A little more of an explanation if you are still with me:

In a healthy response to a threat the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) releases the brake, which in turn allows the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) to respond to the threat. Readiness for fight or flight kicks in. If the person/animal is able to respond with movement until all is well, the PNS kicks in again and the system relaxes until the next threat comes along.