As a caregiver educator, yoga student and teacher, I was intrigued by a UCLA research study last month. It concluded that a simple, low-cost yoga program can enhance coping and quality of life for caregivers. ~Angela Lunde, author of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Blog
I was really delighted to see that Angela Lunde, who writes an excellent Alzheimer's blog for caregivers at the Mayo Clinic endorsed a study that I've known about for quite some time. In fact, I wrote a blog post about it in March of 2012, which I am re-posting here in its entirety, since it still very much applies:
Stress, Meditation and Self-Help, Oh My!
I just posted a link on the resource page for a new study at UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior which had very promising results on a small group of caregivers. They showed marked improvements in both cognitive function and lower levels of depression after using Kirtan Kriya yoga meditation for a 12-minute daily session over an 8 week period.
The control group used only soft, relaxing music, without the chanting meditation, and showed significantly less of a result. This is pretty amazing that it's possible to have a strong positive impact in 12 minutes a day with something that is basically free and easy to do. I'm intrigued by this, since I have been a student of yoga and meditation for many years. Yet, while I was in the midst of the worst stress of the caregiving role, I strangely abandoned those precious tools which would have helped to keep me in balance. Why? Self-sabotage? Perhaps. Burnout? Quite likely. When you find yourself in a prolonged, stressful situation the choices you make may not be rational because of the combined effects of fatigue, depression, ill health, frustration and guilt. The toxic mix of emotions can undermine even the strongest psyche, wearing it down like flowing water wears rock over time. Think, Grand Canyon, here. Caregiving stress is very similar in that it happens gradually, over a period of time, and you might not notice that your coping skills are deteriorating -- or, worse, you might notice and still not be able to make a good decision to rectify the situation. It's that sense of powerlessness, helplessness in the face of the situation, that is so significant and the point at which this entire website/blog is directed.
If you find yourself in that "hanging-on-at-the-end-of-your-rope" place, and seriously considering letting go as an option, this lifeline is for YOU! I am putting together a series of short video meditations just for caregivers, so that you will have some guidance to do your daily 12-minute work toward finding balance, calm, and even your own inner peace again! Stay tuned.
Back to the present, I realize that I never completed the video meditations for caregivers, and so there is no time like this moment to get that done. I hope to get my own version of the Kirtan Kriya posted shortly and will give you the link here on the blog. I purchased a copy from the Alzheimer's Research and Prevention site and have used it, but to my musician's ears, it has some definite flaws (yes, I am getting over my perfectionism. Just give me another decade or two and I should have it mastered). I also purchased their Alzheimer's Prevention Toolkit, which introduces the 4 Pillars of Alzheimer's Prevention(TM) which focuses on diet and brain-specific nutrients, exercise for mind & body, stress management and spiritual/psychological well-being. There is a very thorough up-to-date white paper available for download at the site below: For more information or to purchase, go to www.AlzheimersPrevention.org or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Link for white paper:
I am simply amazed that this type of yoga meditation can produce verifiable results in only 12-minutes a day over an 8-week period. I think you will find the white paper quite enlightening in terms of current research. The information presented there is well-documented. These practices are something that virtually anyone can do, and as Angela Lunde points out, very low cost. They may pay very high dividends indeed if they can prevent or significantly postpone Alzheimer's Disease or help to improve cognitive skills. Frankly, I see no downside in trying them, if you feel the motivation. The possible benefit is life-changing.
"Beginners and outsiders are open to possibilities and don't make assumptions. By extension, they're often better at finding solutions the experts have stopped seeing."
I have a great deal of respect and compassion for caregivers. It is a very challenging role, as I have often mentioned here. One of the reasons is that you have to be a "beginner" over and over, each day, each moment -- caregiving requires looking at your situation with new eyes and a fresh perspective, constantly adapting to changes. As I observe caregivers I find the ones who are able to stay in the "beginner's mind" are usually more successful and less stressed because, as the quote above attests, they are better at finding solutions.
Try using "beginner's mind" when assessing your own state of mental, physical, & emotional/spiritual wellness and how to adapt it to your unique relationships and care situation. You must trust your own instincts because you know yourself and your situation better than the "experts" do! There is plenty of expert advice about caregiving on the internet, in books and blogs, from doctors, friends and family -- but you know best how, or even whether or not, to apply it to your own life. Trust that inner knowing. Nurture it with whatever techniques appeal and work for you. My personal favorites for this type of nurturing are meditation, music & yoga, but you may find taking a walk in nature, riding your bicycle or going to the beach may work better. Be open. Seek to do what is necessary to stay in an attitude of being a beginner. You may find it's quite enlightening and exhilarating to keep open to new ideas, feelings, possibilities. There is a certain perfection in the present moment for each new "beginning".
"When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be." ~Lao Tzu
"It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself."
Throughout my life, I have come to know a deep spiritual truth: We are all connected. According to Chief Seattle, "Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together, All things connect".
To me, this connection called the web of life means that every action we take (or avoid taking) has an impact somewhere, either within our own lives, on other life forms, or upon our environment. This idea has been reiterated by many wise poets, writers, philosophers and theologians, so it is not new. However, I think it applies even more strongly to the relationship of caregiver to care receiver. I'm speaking here of the quality of our caregiving experience, from both sides of the equation.
I've written in this blog of some of the negative consequences caregiving can have, in terms of the caregiver's health, happiness and sense of balance in life. All true. But I want to give some time also to the beautiful compensations, those incredibly precious moments of connection at the soul level, that can be a part of caregiving as well.
Every person and situation is as unique as a fingerprint or snowflake, so generalizing is risky. But I think this is a crucial part of creating a more serene, beneficial experience, so I am willing to go out on this limb.
In caring for my mother, I learned (sometimes the hard way!) that we were incredibly connected -- whether that was judged a good or bad thing was up to me and the perspective I chose. She responded to me on an almost psychic level at times, picking up on emotions and reactions of which I might be totally unaware. She often understood that something was upsetting me, even before I knew it! Though she could not always ferret out the correct reasons, she still related to me from this knowing. I soon realized I could not "fool" her into believing everything was fine if it wasn't. So, I had to clear my own mind and heart before approaching her. I could not hide behind a pretense or falseness. Mom spotted that immediately! She was like a dolphin whose echo-location scanned below the surface, all the way through my innermost self, and saw truth. It reminded me of times as a child when I believed Mom could tell if I was fibbing by looking into my eyes. Perhaps she could -- a mother's own type of radar or a truth-seeking missile.
There were several activities we did to nurture and connect us: music was a powerful device for this. We often sang together, watched musicals on DVD that were her favorites, and listened to hymns or songs by Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, and other "crooners" from Mom's era. I wish that I'd known about the iPod Project (www.musicandmemory.org and on this site click here) in time to use that with my Mom. But, alas, I learned of it too late.
Another connection was found through flowers, specifically roses -- that lovely flower was Mom's talisman, since she grew a beautiful rose garden which she shared with her friends to uplift and bless them all her life, so it was perfect for reminiscing.
And, lastly, perhaps the most potent of all: simple loving touch. I used gentle, soothing touch with Mom every day -- putting lotion on her skin, gently rubbing her back at bedtime, using aromatherapy oils on her hands and arms, hugging her several times a day, touching her arm or hand as we walked, reaching over to pat her knee as we watched TV or in the car. I used touch along with giving her reassuring words, and loving eye contact. It was this that most often sparked a spontaneous "I love you", or "You're a little sweetheart" (her favorite term of endearment).
Now, in the interest of being completely candid, I must report that I am not a saint. There were days when exhaustion, lack of sleep, worries, distractions, stress or any number of other things got in the way of my being the best caregiver I could be. There were days I didn't much like myself for being tired, short-tempered, upset. I've had to figure out how to forgive myself for not being perfect, for not always knowing how to approach this huge job of being completely responsible for another life. Most days I can do that. I'm still working on it.
I wanted to share this, from my heart, because I know that the one thing caregivers often find in short supply is hope. Hope for a loving positive experience in caring for one they love. My advice is to create that hope and joy one moment at a time. Make this moment count. Use all your creativity and passion to connect through all the senses -- sound, touch, smell, sight and taste. Be present as a healing, loving being right now. Let the next moments and days take care of themselves as much as you can. And find the peace and grace of those beautiful compensations of caring -- one moment at a time.
Are you a family caregiver at the end of your proverbial rope? If the answer is yes, hang on and read on! You have options:
1. You can tie a knot in the end of the rope and hang on for dear life in hopes that some miraculous rescue will occur before your strength gives out and you fall into the abyss of overwhelm, frustration and caregiver burnout below. (I don’t recommend this option, since, in my experience miraculous rescuers are few and I usually go for a more proactive option, anyway. Plus, if you fall and hit the rocks below, it really hurts!)
2. You can tie a noose with the rope and figuratively hang yourself, in essence, giving up your own precious life by giving in to negativity, depression, and despair. By giving up, you shift all responsibility for caregiving to someone else and abdicate your role. (I certainly don’t recommend this option, since I believe whole-heartedly in Life with a capital “L” and that love has amazing powers to heal and keep us whole! But you would be surprised how many people choose this)
3. You can swing on the rope trying to clear the canyon of caregiver destruction beneath you and get on solid ground. (This is a marginally better choice than #1 or #2, but still doesn’t work for me)
4. You can use the rope to make a hammock of support beneath you – a place you can relax, rest and renew your strength, inner resources, and commitment to the caregiving journey. Eventually, your rope hammock can become a rope bridge allowing you to safely navigate across the caregiver chasm and keep your life and sanity in the process. (Now, I admit I am biased, but this is the one I would choose.)
This post is an excerpt from my soon-to-be-published ebook, which provides practical tips and gentle self-care and self-nurturing techniques to make life less of a struggle and more of a loving learning experience. If you are tired of struggling and dangling your way through the uncertainties of caregiving, please sign up to receive a release notice when Sanity Savers: For Caregivers at the End of Their Rope is published. Find support for a more balanced, healthy, life-enhancing approach to giving care – a hopeful, positive way that includes you along with your care-receiver.
Karen is a compassionate, enthusiastic student of life, who cared for her mother for 17 years. She brings her insights, compassion, experience and desire to share knowledge and healing to this ongoing conversation with others on the caregiving path. If you are caring for a parent, spouse, friend or other loved one this site offers sanity-saving tips, open-hearted self-care ideas, and an open forum for discussion, connection and sharing resources for the journey.
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