Monday, June 6, 2016

One Thing: The Key to Dealing with Stress



Whether it's feeling as if you have no say-so in your job or being at the beck-and-call of a newborn, shuttling kids from one sports practice to the next or caring for a dependent parent, most everyone can relate to the sense of helplessness that comes with having to be on someone else's schedule. This type of stress can become overwhelming when you operate in the reactive mode that accompanies the belief that you have no control over any aspect of your own life.

I can relate.

There was that blurry six-year period of time back in the late '80s and early '90s when I was either carrying a baby inside or outside my body - sometimes simultaneously. I had three kids in three and a half years and my youngest didn't walk until he was 18-months old. Life was a whirlwind of sciatica, strollers, diapers, nursing, and sleep-deprivation (and then we got a puppy?!?!?!).

During the baby and preschool years, my husband's job required him to work overtime Monday through Thursday nights and half-days on Saturdays. His schedule was often at the mercy of regulatory deadlines and indecisive lawmakers. He doesn't even remember many of our children's early milestones...

Fast-forward to the high school years when I had a freshman, a junior, and a senior. 'Nuff said (except we got to know a few area cops and the magistrate, and our youngest began answering "why" when asked if he was the sibling of so-and-so Haddad…).

Various stages in life facilitate that sense of being out of control. Everyone else's demands often override your own, and we most likely give up our own needs as a means to maintain peace and harmony. You suppress your desires/questions/conflicts/needs and everyone is happy.

Hardly.

In the National Geographic documentary, "Stress: Portrait of a Killer," Stanford-based researcher Dr. Robert Sapolsky highlights the chemical reactions triggered by stress throughout the human body. Its effects are wide-spread. He has studied this topic since the 1970s. Being "stuck" in a never-ending cycle of demands creates the biggest impact. Sapolsky's determined the lower someone is in the pecking order at work for instance, the greater the likelihood of them suffering the health damaging effects of stress. Primary caregivers of severely handicapped children age more quickly than the rest of the general population (as evidenced in degeneration of telomeres). Having no say-so on a regular basis in a given situation can be very dangerous to physical health. Weakened immune systems, compromised digestion, insomnia, and irregular hormone production are other symptoms of heightened stress.

The documentary is a fascinating journal of his work and reveals one of his conclusions that at once seems so simple, yet so profound: Find one area of life to have a sense of control over and you will lessen your chances of suffering from stress-related maladies.

This area doesn't have to even be related to the things that are causing you stress.

In the case of the caregivers of severely handicapped children, they watched comedy movies and then spent time talking with each other once per week over a particular period of time and researchers discovered their telomeres began to regrow.

During my kids' high school years, the only time I could carve out for myself was at the ungodly hour of 5:00am. At first, it was excruciating to get out of bed at that time, but before too long it became my lifeline to sanity. I would write in my journal and read, slowly savoring a warm mug of coffee while watching the street outside my large living room window come alive for the day. Having a "coffee view" has become mandatory in the homes I've lived in since then.

One of my daughters - a mother to two young kids - heads out to a 6:00am yoga class most mornings during the week before caring for her own two kids, plus my other daughter's almost-two-year-old. My second daughter is a full time college student, returning to school at age 25 to study nursing, in addition to being a solo parent. She manages to fit in a workout at the gym three mornings each week at 6:00am before breakfast, school, and studying (she lives with me, so the baby isn't left alone!).

I've just started reading "The 5 A.M. Miracle: Dominate Your Day Before Breakfast," by Jeff Sanders. His contention is that people are more productive when they've gotten up with an agenda in mind. The actual time isn't the point, the idea of an agenda is.

If you are feeling as if your life is out of control, as if you have no say-so in what you do, look for one thing you can do just for you. If you've got young kids and a co-parent, try alternating mornings at the gym or yoga studio. Maybe it's a weekly (or monthly) standing date with a friend for a cup of coffee, dessert, or even a meal. Perhaps it's skipping the talking heads on TV at night to read books on topics that really interest you. It could be that you've been dreaming of learning a new craft or developing a new skill, so watch how-to videos, gather your materials and make it happen - even if it's in baby steps. If you are drawing a complete blank, consider hand writing a letter to a different person you've been wanting to reconnect with once each week. You can find the time, you just need to decide to do it (You argue you have no time? BS! The average American spends nearly 5 hours per day watching TV and more than 50 hours per month on social media - how many of us plan THAT into our day??? You really CAN find the time). Make an appointment with yourself on your calendar, complete with a pop-up reminder. Make it non-negotiable, barring some dramatic emergency.

By bringing a plan to do something for yourself into your regular routine, you may find those deadlines and demands don't get your stomach in knots like they used to. You might not snap at your SO for failing to read your mind. Sleep might begin to come more easily to you than it has in years.

What one thing can you do for YOU? I'd like to know!



Elly Haddad is a Healthy Life-Style Coordinator, combining her certifications as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and yoga instructor. She's the owner of Elemental Fit and founder of The NashWell Group, both based in Nashville, TN. She teaches at Hot Yoga Plus, Sanctuary for Yoga, The YMCA of Middle TN, and coordinates wellness programs for various private corporate clients and individuals on Music Row and throughout Nashville. She helps individuals and groups understand the important influence that diet & lifestyle have on health, happiness, and overall wellbeing. Elly is also a freelance writer and public speaker, conducting workshops and seminars throughout the midwest and southeastern US. She can be contacted directly via email here


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Recovering From Hip Surgery (or should I say "adjusting"?): Baby Steps...


I'm a little more than one week post-op and have been surprised at how good I actually feel.

Medical procedures leave me squeamish and surgery downright terrifies me, so the day of surgery last week started off tough. Waiting in the pre-op area seeing other patients being wheeled off for their surgeries only caused my anxiousness to swell. My compassionate (or was it impatient?) anesthesiologist gracefully administered some powerful - if not excruciatingly painful - drugs to help me into unconsciousness relax prior to taking me to the operating room. Aside from the searing pain as the meds passed through my IV into my arm, I don't recall anything (although Dave reports I muttered unintelligibly, eyes closed, until they wheeled me away).

I spent twice as much time in recovery than anticipated, thanks to some nasty nausea from the anesthesia, but once I was able to NOT puke or dry heave upon raising my head, they released me.

I ended up having four different procedures performed on my hip during a 2 1/2 hour surgery. I left with some good news and some bad. The good news is that instead of being on crutches for two months, it will only be one. The bad news is that this is due to the fact that the procedure that would have necessitated a longer time on crutches had to be skipped, as the cumulative damage to my hip was too great for them to be able to perform it (it would have involved scraping into the cartilage of my hip joint, allowing a scab of sorts to form that would then turn into a fibrous cartilage-like protection for the joint. In order for the cartilage-like substance to fully form, the scab would need to remain undisturbed for two months). As things stand, I could be facing a total hip replacement in "two years or two decades, it's just something to keep in mind," according to my surgeon (Dr. JW Thomas Byrd of Nashville Sports Medicine — I HIGHLY recommend him if anyone is in need of a great hip guy).

I have managed to bring myself to look at the photos from my surgery (even though they are little round images taken by the camera via the scope, it's still something inside my body and it still creeps me out…) and the amount of redness in my sonovium (the tissue in a joint that produces sonovial fluid) confirms the extremely high level of inflammation I've been dealing with for the past eight months, due to the tear in my labrum and the constant rubbing it was exposed to. Going into surgery, there was no way to determine the extent of this via scans, so my doctor was surprised by its severity, too. I had a sonovectomy (who knew this was a thing?) and am now awaiting the regrowth of new sonovium, among other things.

Despite my best intentions to try to remember all of the medial talk thrown about over the past week and a half, I can't retain much of it. One of my injuries was considered a "severe level 3" on a scale of 1 to 4. I've had the head of my femur reshaped and bone spurs removed from it. In addition to the removal of the sonovium I've had the tear in my labrum stitched together (it took about six stitches, according to the photo). I've also got a fairly large stitch on the outside of my hip capsule to keep everything in place.

In light of all of that, I imagine I should feel worse, but thanks to how painful my hip has been since last September I actually feel great. Prescription pain meds were more of a hindrance than a help - causing me to feel dizzy, weak, and shake uncontrollably. I've been off of them since day three following my surgery. I continue to take prescription naprosyn to prevent bone regrowth and aspirin as a precaution against post-surgical blood clots, but other than that I am letting my body do what it needs to do to be well.

My restrictions include not allowing myself to bend at the waist deeper than a 90-degree angle between my thighs and my torso for a month (this means someone else has to put on my pants, tie my shoes, and adorn my legs with the ever-glamorous compression socks). Retrieving an item dropped on the floor is impossible. Sitting in low chairs or navigating anything shorter than a handicapped potty is out of the questions. I'm also on crutches for this month as well, with a maximum of 50% weight allowed on my left leg (how to gauge that for a non-numbers person???), so my new comfy item has become a used plastic Target bag into which I put anything I imagine might be useful when I change locations in my house - phone, journal, some pens of various pretty colors, sometimes crochet (a skill from back in the day that I am oh-so-thankful for right now), my Kindle, and usually a spare tissue or two - due to the fact that both of my hands are being used to keep myself upright and it allows me to somewhat independently (if not noisily) move my own stuff whenever I want. Additionally, I can't allow my left leg or foot to pivot externally, so must be careful when maneuvering on the crutches, in bed, and especially around the grand babies.

My husband, Dave, has been the best private-duty nurse imaginable. Despite our close relationship and nearly 30 years of marriage, my first sense of post-surgical triumph came when I was able to go to the bathroom without his assistance. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, prepare ahead of time and convert your potty to be handicapped accessible before surgery!

Often I identify myself as a "recovering Type-A" personality, but this puts it in a whole new perspective for me. I can't do much of anything for myself, save for things that can be done with my hands. It's difficult for me to allow others to do most everything for me, and at first I battled a near-constant refrain of apologies for the inconvenience running through my head and sometimes out of my mouth to anyone who might be affected by my current condition. I'm more appreciative than guilty now.

I've ventured out a few times. Yesterday I took the electric cart at Whole Foods for a spin, trailing behind Dave and four-year-old grandson Ransom as they shopped. Initially, I was afraid I'd feel a bit self-conscious buzzing around the store in it, but I soon relaxed when I realized how most people actually AVOIDED looking at me in it and I pretty much felt invisible… It gave me a new perspective for our less-abled friends… A highlight came when Ransom pointed out an older gentleman in another electric cart just ahead of us as we entered the prepared food section and he excitedly shouted, "GG LOOK! There's a guy like you! Catch him!!!" as if we might race.


Elly Haddad is a Healthy Life-Style Coordinator, combining her certifications as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and yoga instructor. She's the owner of Elemental Fit and founder of The NashWell Group, both based in Nashville, TN. When she isn't sidelined by this injury, she teaches at Hot Yoga Plus, Sanctuary for Yoga, The YMCA of Middle TN, and coordinates wellness programs for various private corporate clients and individuals on Music Row and throughout Nashville. She helps individuals and groups understand the important influence that diet & lifestyle have on health, happiness, and overall wellbeing. Elly is also a freelance writer and public speaker, conducting workshops and seminars throughout the midwest and southeastern US. She can be contacted directly via email here


Monday, May 16, 2016

FAI and Labral Tear: How I'm Coping With My Hip Injury

In a few days, I’ll be undergoing arthroscopic surgery on my hip to repair a torn labrum and reshape the head of my femur.

More than six months ago while in a power yoga class as the teacher was leading the class through a series of balance-challenging flow sequences, she gave the direction to transition from half-moon to revolved half moon stating, “In the car on the way over here, I thought we should try this tonight.” [If you ever hear a teacher say this, DON'T GO ALONG!!! It's important that a teacher KNOWS what something will feel like in their own body before asking you to try it with YOURS! (FYI as I have learned since then: NEVER do this set of poses consecutively!)]

On auto-pilot after mentally checking out (big mistake), I went through the sequence on my right side. While it didn’t feel “great,” I chalked up the sensation in my hip as nothing more than fatigue and aging. On the second side, transitioning between the poses caused a feeling I can only describe as “meat separating from bone.” It was excruciating. I assumed it was a pulled muscle as I “recovered” on my mat for the remainder of class, pulling myself together enough to teach a one-hour class immediately following my “mishap.”

This is what it kind of felt like when I did that sequence

The next weekend I visited friends in another part of the country, logging close to 30-miles on foot as we speed-walked through points of interest in their new city, strolled along area beaches, and enjoyed the beauty of the great outdoors. Not one to want to be THE wet-blanket, I ignored the searing pain that radiated throughout my left hip all weekend. My only respite came when my husband gracefully suggested I might want to practice yoga back at the house alone while everyone else hit the roads for a 30-mile bike trip early one morning. I owe him big-time for that…

By the time we got to the airport for our trip home, I was unable to swing my left leg in front of me as we trekked to our gate. Instead, I had to pivot my left leg in a way that resembled a cowboy from the Wild West, striding ‘round town after a months-long excursion on the back of a very wide horse. Getting in and out of a car was only manageable if I sat on the seat, both legs outside the door and then picked my leg up to lift it into the car.

A few days after returning home, I heard and felt a loud pop in my hip and, although still in pain, I regained some mobility in it.

Sleepless nights have ensued, aided only by an extra-firm king-sized pillow placed between my legs, positioned from my feet up to the top of my inner thighs which allows me to doze between periods of wakefulness as I shift and turn to accommodate the pillow and the pain in my “bad” hip.

Throughout it all, I kept thinking there was a pulled muscle that simply needed to recover, or some muscles that needed to be strengthened/stretched/ignored(?), indulging in longs soaks in Epsom salts and frequently using a roller on the outside of my left leg… I continued to teach and practice (in fact, there was only one day each week I wasn’t teaching), albeit somewhat modified, otherwise during classes one wrong move could make me wince, gasp, and limp afterward.

These warning signs should have been plenty to warrant further investigation into what was actually going on, but because I was born with bent tibia and lived with constant leg pain throughout my childhood and into my adult years, pain in my legs was my “normal.” Ignoring it was how I coped. Couple that with being “THE mom,” whereas I simply don’t have time to be out of commission, and being in denial can make for a great coping strategy.

The first of the year brought a renewed sense of focus on trying to “fix” my hip, so I upped my physical activity directed at strengthening my quads and my adductors, and made sure to get 10,000 steps in every day whether it was on the track at the Y or on the hilly roads near my home – and I got worse, much worse. The tipping point arrived with a very loud single POP in my hip, followed by a sound I can only compare to wearing one flip flop every time I took a step with my left foot. Others in the same room could hear me walking by. My daughters would (jokingly) ask me to stop walking near them because the sound weirded them out… It lasted for weeks.

Finally, I sought professional help. A highly recommended PT suggested I could have a labral tear (which I first heard as a “LABIAL tear,” confusing me to the point that I ALMOST said, “No, the pain is in my HIP!” until I realized she was pointing to her own hip as she said it, and then it was all I could do to not laugh for the remainder of our appointment…), and recommended I get an appointment with my general practitioner who would most likely order and x-ray and go from there.

To cut to the chase, I saw my doctor who referred me to a hip specialist after review of my x-ray revealed some missing cartilage. The specialist I went with is supposedly one of the best around. Further X-rays and MRI have revealed not just the labral tear, but also the presence of FAI (Femoroacetabular Impingement) – an abnormal shape of the “ball” part of my ball-and-socket in my hip (mine is more of an oval than a round ball) making me more susceptible to injuries such as mine – which they say has most likely been present since birth. It explains the nagging, always-present IT band pain I’ve contended with in the same leg since upping my yoga practice when I was going through my teacher training.

Surgery to repair both the tear and the impinging bone will be done arthroscopically on Thursday. I’m a big baby when it comes to needles and surgeries and blood and pain, but I am so over being in pain from this hip issue that I’m willing to endure whatever it takes to attempt to fix it. From what they’ve told me, part of the “enduring” will include one to two months on crutches with NO weight on my left leg. The total recovery time is usually four to six months. Within a year, I can expect to return to normal activity. Had it simply been the labral tear, I’d be out of commission for about 30 days.


If you’re reading this and you are tempted to advise me to try non-surgical treatments first, don’t. Rubbing oils on my hip or eating certain foods won’t reshape my hipbone or mend the torn cartilage of the gasket in my hip. Altering my physical activity in order to live with this condition isn’t an option, either, as it would eliminate hiking, yoga (my job), going up and down stairs, or even bending over to tie my shoes from my regular routine. Yes, I’m aware of the risks of surgery (and I’ve been thinking about them ad nauseum – mostly in the wee hours of the morning), but the risks associated with an inactive life, and one in constant pain ARE realities for me right now. I’m confident I am in good hands. People come to my doctor from all around the world for treatment. His office is adorned with the jerseys of pro football and hockey players he has operated on, and who later returned to their profession.


I’m looking forward to getting my life back, but I’m still a little scared about the journey it’ll take to get there.

Elly Haddad is a Healthy Life-Style Coordinator, combining her certifications as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and yoga instructor. She's the owner of Elemental Fit and founder of The NashWell Group, both based in Nashville, TN. When she isn't sidelined by this injury, she teaches at Hot Yoga Plus, Sanctuary for Yoga, The YMCA of Middle TN, and various private corporate clients and individuals. She helps individuals and groups understand the important influence that diet & lifestyle have on health, happiness, and overall wellbeing. Elly is also a freelance writer and public speaker, conducting workshops and seminars throughout the midwest and southeastern US. She can be contacted directly via email here

Thursday, October 29, 2015

How Yoga Found Me, Part 2



Several years after my first formal yoga class I moved to a new city and ended up living right next door to a fitness club with a surprisingly great yoga program.

Yoga instructor Kirsten taught a smooth and steady Ashtanga practice I immediately fell in love with. Walking out the front door of my building, traversing the 25 yards to the club and into class left little room for excuses to miss a class, and I quickly fell into a pattern of attending three or four classes each week.

Learning the difference between dangling my arms toward the vicinity of my toes and actually touching them while engaging my mula bandha and the muscles in my back during my first few forward folds was revelational. I had never been truly in touch with my body before, and the rigorous practice with no music and very little chit chat forced me to hear my own thoughts before transitioning through that realm and into one of simply being present with the sound of my ujjayi breath joining the others in the room as we moved from pose to pose in unison under the direction of our instructor.

I think what drew me into a more consistent practice (other than the sheer convenience of it) was the feeling of being part of a group of people operating in unison, but also being allowed - encouraged, even - to focus inwardly at the same time, to develop a greater sense of mindfulness about how each movement affected sensation in the body.

Elly Haddad is a healthy life-style coordinator, combining her certifications as an Integrative Nutrition Coach and yoga instructor. She's the owner of Elemental Fit and founder of The NashWell Group, both based in Nashville, TN. She helps individuals and groups understand the important influence that diet & lifestyle have on health, happiness, and overall wellbeing. Elly is also a freelance writer and public speaker, conducting workshops and seminars throughout the midwest and southeastern US. She can be contacted directly via email here

Monday, October 12, 2015

How Yoga Found Me, Pt 1



When I first dipped my toes into the yoga pool seven years ago, I was in my early 40s and had been steeped in conservative Christianity for quite a while. Many of my pew mates contended that there was no way to reconcile the wide gulf between “true” Christianity and the Eastern mysticism surrounding yoga (yes, it had come up in conversation).


I’ve not been one to go along with crowd mentality for very long, and I found myself drawn (for some unexplainable reason) to a yoga studio in the city where I was living at the time.  It was in a gritty part of town. The windows were cracked, the wooden floors unfinished, and the place smelled of the old, tired residues left behind by a plethora of former businesses housed within its structure. I felt as if I’d come home. Sometimes, you simply have to trust your gut.

Sure, some of the terminology was foreign and I wasn’t quiet sure what to make of the prayer flags strung about the room, but the atmosphere – the feel of the place and the feel of my practice on my mat – drew me like very few things have. I’d tried “Christian Yoga,” taught by the wife of one of the deacons at our church at a nearby country club. She attempted to make the names for yoga poses more acceptable by naming them after characters in the Bible, removing all Sanskrit and any vestige of non-Westernness but it felt awkward, forced, and club-like. I couldn’t do it.

Is faith so precarious that failing to sterilize our surroundings can cause it to be suddenly whisked away?

Sometimes we try to dress things up in a particular manner, creating a particular fa├žade in hopes of becoming acceptable with a crowd that might not be very accepting otherwise. Is that deceptive? Is it disingenuine? What’s the point of the altered version, anyway?


Elly Haddad is a healthy life-style coordinator, combining her certifications as an Integrative Nutrition Coach and yoga instructor. She's the owner of Elemental Fit and founder of The NashWell Group, both based in Nashville, TN. She helps individuals and groups understand the important influence that diet & lifestyle have on health, happiness, and overall wellbeing. Elly is also a freelance writer and public speaker, conducting workshops and seminars throughout the midwest and southeastern US. She can be contacted directly via email here