Creativity – Part I

becreative_CMBB_Alexandra_Bloch-AtefiSparked on by my current coursera course “Creativity, Innovation, and Change” I felt inspired to write about creativity. I want to start off with debunking a basic myth:


Yes, let that sink in for a moment. Creativity exists along a continuum. That can mean a big radical idea but also everyday problem solving. So while everyone is creative, their ways of being creative differs. This views belong to a new theory of creativity which is called the “Creative Diversity model”. Important scholars, like Michael Kirton, Robert Sternberg, and Teresa Amabile have contributed to it.

While creativity is one of the pillars of happiness and well-being – fact is that people are much less creative when they feel stressed, being judged or under pressure. Other counter-forces to creativity are FEAR, busyness, and needing CERTAINTY. Creativity is about taking risks and experimenting, trying new things and knowing that there can be many solutions to a problem.

To start your own creative journey you might want to ponder the following questions:

  • What is my creative level – my knowledge, skill, and experience?
  • What is my creative style – how do I prefer to approach change?
  • What motivates me to solve problems and bring about change?
  • And which opportunities interest and inspire me most?

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Stress comes at you from all angles anytime, any day. It does not wait for you to be ready for it. If you are not balanced or grounded then the tiniest thing can make you feel fatigued, tense, fed up and sometimes just weighed down!!!

I have lived with these types of sensations in my body for most of my life. Strangely enough when I explored my history from birth it was not surprising that I discovered that I had been exposed to the experience stress since I was born….though I have only realised this in the last few years!

I was born to very loving and caring parents, but at the time of my birth my mum was dealing with her father’s health deteriorating from lung cancer while my dad was trying to cope with his mother’s failing health. I was only 6 months old when these two grandparents passed away within a month of each other. It turns out this type of grief in a family is a lot to cope with but at 6 months of age it ends up being a lot of grief for a new little mind body system to endure.

During my child hood I experienced other events that put stress on my body such as the Ash Wednesday Fires where I snuck into my parent’s bedroom to peak out the window only to see the hills on fire.

Then there were the YEARS of emotional manipulation and physical hurt which was topped with the daily bullying at primary school…..and I wasn’t even 12 years old yet.

I could go on and on and in fact when I told ‘My Story’ to my peers during my 4 year Psychotherapy and Counselling course I realised exactly what my system had endured for those previous 32 years. I realised I hadn’t been managing my stress, anxiety, depression, overwhelm and tension, I had simply being pushing it down, ignoring it and not really letting people get close.

Whilst you may not consciously be aware of all the stress you have endured throughout your life, your mind body system is aware. It stores these experiences in the system and can trigger a state-dependant response at any time without warning. More often than not you wont be aware why you react a certain way to a situation or why a smell makes you feel a certain way BUT your mind body system remembers and knows.

With my experience it all felt ‘normal’ to me…..though through awareness that the mind body system remembers I began to wonder what had I done with all this stress? I thought I had just been pushing it ‘away’, sure I had, I had pushed it away down into my body which had to find its own way to express it and be heard.


For those that are not aware somatisation is a tendency to experience and communicate psychological distress through the physical body. My expression of choice… temperamental nerve disorder, mouth ulcers, chest infections and a poor immune system. The phrase “you’re always sick” has been a common statement to me for years.

Thankfully before I realised all that my system had endured I had been introduced to some Stress Relief Techniques. When I was first introduced to Meridian Tapping, I would use it daily and the Bi-lateral stimulation music would be in my ears for up to 8 hours a day on some occasions, yet still my body craved more. It craved to be heard.

  • What do you do with your stress?
  • Are you like I was and ignore it, hope it will go away, think a walk will be enough to dispel it?

If you have had years of enduring stress and your body is starting to act out, I urge you to do something about it.

Meridian Tapping has helped me to control many things in my life and I use it most days. It helps metabolise the stress response in your body so that it is discharged from your body. Naming the issue, belief or stress can be a powerful thing on its own but when combined with the Mindful Meridian tapping it can make a lot of difference. Even with something as simple as noticing the present issue and your breath at the end of the tapping sequence can make you feel calmer and release tension from your shoulders.

So now that I know that I have resources and skills to call upon, my response to stress looks very different, most of the time. I have to remember though that I am not perfect and that some situations and comments can still cause stressful responses. This is OK.

I am often confronted with this at work (I have been a Clinical Researcher for over 11 years at a large internationally recognised medical institution and work with some chronically ill children). I now find my first point of call is to take a moment, put my hand on my belly and just breathe, paying attention to the breath as it moves in and out of my body. It gives my mind and my body a chance to pause for a moment allowing me to apply mindfulness to the situation. My initial reaction is often altered by this simple act and I usually choose to stand up, walk out to the balcony, take a few more mindful breaths and then return to where I need to be. I return to be in ‘the moment’ which allows me to deal with what needs to be dealt with.

On occasion where I need to release something quickly so it doesn’t continue to affect me I will rub the NLR (Neuro-Lymphatic Release) point and state something like “I release all the built up stress and tension from my body with each exhalation”. I may say it to myself or out loud (if no one is around), but will always say it 3 times or more.

It happens less often now but occasionally something will stay with me after I leave work or something that has particularly bothered me, which I know would create stress to be stored in my body, then I use the Meridian Tapping to ensure I release it. I still have some stuck stress to work through and now by listening to my body I know when it needs a break or some work and will utilise the techniques I mentioned either by myself, with my therapist or with a colleague.  I am sure you have all heard of the expression “You’re like an onion, one layer comes off but there are more underneath to get through”.

It appears that some people have a great threshold for absorbing what life throws at them, they don’t need help, and being able to talk to friends or family is enough. But if you are someone like me who absorbs the stress into their body, who has a short fuse at times, that always feels like their shoulders sit near their ears and who hears the statement “but you’re always sick” then perhaps you could benefit for learning some Stress Relief techniques. It really has changed my life and I shudder to think how I would be if I had not learnt the Meridian tapping, mindfulness, received the bi-lateral music, or discovered the amazing NLR.

About the author:

Julie is a qualified holistic counsellor and clinical researcher. She is counselling clients in private practice and facilitating Stress Relief Workshops. Check out our next Stress Relief Workshop at It will be an interactive and experiential afternoon where we provide you with some skills to help cope with daily stress, tension and anxiety. While also providing you with some techniques to energize yourself on those days when you just ‘don’t have the energy’!!!

For more info call Julie at 0417 355 761 or

email her at

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MEANING and information in the NEW MILLENNIUM

I am very excited to have my mentor Dr Kaalii Cargill, (who has been an inspiration to me throughout my training as a Psychotherapist and continues to do so),  write a guest blog about our profession as Soul Centred Psychotherapists and meaning in life:

“This new millennium comes with ready access to information about every aspect of human life. How will we make use of this information?

Relationship seems to be the magic word or principle that weaves information and experience into a living, breathing responsiveness to ourselves, each other, and the world around us.

My own engagement with information and experience has led me to co-develop a therapeutic modality, publish 5 books, and focus on developing co-creative relationships in my life and work.

The therapeutic modality
Soul Centred Psychotherapy developed from a belief that we have a responsibility to examine the overt and covert assumptions and belief systems by which we live, and to find a way to sustain human life on Earth.

One of the underlying tenets of Soul Centred Psychotherapy is that the single most urgent task of the current time is reconnection with the feminine principle. This is related to values of cooperation, partnership and connectedness with nature, as distinct from patriarchal cultural values of conquest, exploitation and competition.

Western culture has traditionally valued mind and spirit (science and organised religion), and has neglected soul (the embodied experience of being human). Another word for embodied experience is immanence, that which is indwelling or inherent, “pervading the universe”.

New Age philosophies tend to emphasise transcendence: that which transcends human experience and is “not subject to the limitations of the physical universe”.

Soul Centred Psychotherapy holds that the immanence and transcendence are aspects of a single, inter-connected reality in which matter and spirit are not separate. This reality is experienced through immediate, living relationship with self, others and the world, and is inherent in the feminine principle.

The books
Central to my writing is the question “What if . . .?”

I have explored this question in fiction and non-fiction:

  • What if things are not what they seem?
  • What if the beliefs and norms of a culture are based on values that do not support healthy co-creative, living relationship with self, others, and the world?
  • What other stories are there?

In DON’T TAKE IT LYING DOWN: LIFE ACCORDING TO THE GODDESS, I examine the collective beliefs, attitudes and practices that bind women to a world view that denies the life-giving power of the feminine. When we discover what it is to be truly feminine, we reconnect with the experience of God as a woman–the Goddess in all her names. And when we invite the Goddess back into our lives, She changes everything She touches and everything She touches changes. The stories and sacred tasks in this book are keys that open doors to ancient mysteries which once guided people their lives. The Goddess waits patiently for us to come to her, and we must each travel our own journey to the deep feminine wisdom that embeds human experience within Nature and the natural rhythms and cycles of life and death, the eternal return, and seasonal changes.

In DAUGHTERS OF TIME, I weave history and myth into a story of three modern women, an ancient lineage, and a prophecy that can save the modern World from environmental catastrophe.

THE ELEMENT SERIES is a fantasy trilogy in which the dispossessed Wardens of the Land fight the Archpriests of the One God for the survival of the Old Ways that sustain life.

Co-creative Relationships
I have been blessed with family, friends, and meaningful, creative work with others. All of these have their challenges and their delights, and I continue to learn about relationship with myself, with others, and with the world.

Co-creative relationship includes qualities of being present in the moment, attending to self and other(s), empathic resonance, sincerity/authenticity, generosity, curiosity, and generative support for creative expression.

To support co-creative relationship, I ask the following questions about beliefs, fixed attitudes, and reactive feeling responses and behaviours (my own and those of others):

  • “Whom/what does it serve?”
  • “What is of value [to me, to other(s), to the world] here?”
  • “What does this mean–to me, to others, to the world?”
  •  “What will this current experience look/ feel/ be like if I can look back over my life in 5/10/20 years?”
  • “What might be possible here?

The only problem with those questions is that the rational, conscious mind CANNOT really answer them! The answers must arise from living relationship with a wider, more inclusive mind, the mind we meet in dreams, in the imagination, in creative expression, and in ongoing interconnectedness with the whole system(s) in which we live. This involves seeing through simplistic cause-effect, dualistic descriptions of the world (mind/body; us/them; nature/spirit etc.) and makes possible living relationship with self, others and the world.”

About the author:

Dr Kaalii Cargill, PhD, is a Psychotherapist, Psychologist, an accredited supervisor with PACFA, Director of the Kairos Centre for Soul Centred Psychotherapy, and an award winning author.


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Struggling as an introvert in an extrovert world?

You are in good company – Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Gandhi — all these peopled described themselves as quiet and soft-spoken and even shy. And they all took the spotlight, even though every bone in their bodies was telling them not to.” (Susan Cain, author of QUIET, the power of introverts).

Similarly, Dr. Marti Olsen Laney (author of The introvert advantage) notes that introversion is both common and normal (30 to 50% of the population are introverts).

Furthermore, many creative individuals, thinkers and distinguished leaders were introverts. Amongst them:

  • Thomas Edison
  • Charles Darwin
  • Albert Einstein
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Alfred Hitchcock
  • Bill Gates
  • Mahatma Gandhi

However, being an introvert in extrovert oriented culture can be a painful experience. One of my client shared with me, how she often feels out of place in a world that’s so heavily geared towards being social and vocal, taking action and hogging the spot light. She recalls how at school she would feel more comfortable with a book at her desk than joining in the raucous banter with her classmates.

In contrast to commonly held believes, introverts are neither shy, nor do they lack confidence or social skills. They simply respond differently to stimulation than their extroverted counterparts. This is very apparent when it comes to learning conditions. While introverts do best in quiet environments, extroverts thrive with more noise (Colin DeYoung, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota).

“Introverts have social skills, they like people, and they enjoy some types of socializing.. .[they] enjoy one-on-one conversations, but group activities can be overstimulating and drain energy” (Laney, p.43).

In Carl Gustav Jung‘s typological theories (1923), underpinning the Myers-Briggs personality test, introverts are defined as being drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, while extroverts are stimulated by the external life of people and activities. However, he noted that no one is a pure extrovert or introvert, they exist on a spectrum, depending on the situation.

As an introvert you have your own set of assets, so how can you leverage your strengths?

  • Use your capacity for reflection by examining your thinking patterns
  • Find an extrovert to promote your strengths
  • Apply your skill for self-directed learning
  • You are likely to be very detail-oriented, have great writing skills and are able to focus on what needs to be done.
  • Usually plan what you are going to say before you say it, think things through and make informed decisions based on fact finding.
  • Skilled at solving complex problems as you are taking the time to carefully analyze the issues at hand.

Want to hear more?
In her inspirational TED talk, Susan Cain, an accomplished lawyer and best-selling author shares her own lived experience as an introvert along with common myths about introversion.

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Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. New York, NY: Crown Publishers.

Jung, C. G. (1923). Psychological types. Edinburgh, G.B.: The Edinburgh Press.

Laney, M. O. (2002). The introvert advantage: How to thrive in an extrovert world. New York: Workman Publishing. I73

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The therapeutic capacity of POETRY

Image courtesy of digitalart

Image courtesy of digitalart

I sometimes read poems to my clients as it’s a great way to circumvent defenses and tap into the unconscious. Often non-metaphorical literal language is not enough to capture the complexity of the emotional conflict a client is struggling with, wheras a poem may not only offer better understanding but also help explore subconscious feelings and how they relate to present life situations.

Intense emotions can be frightening and difficult to be with, poetry offers an effective way to both bear and contain those feelings. In his diaries Franz Kafka (born 1883 in Prague, Bohemia – Böhmen, then in Austria-Hungary, now the Czech Republic) states: A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us

Poetry therapy can be traced back to ancient Egypt, where sacred words were chanted in rituals to promote healing. Poetry and medicine used to be closely related. In traditional, native American medicine, Shamans used poetry for the well-being of the tribe. (Shelton, 1999). Soranus, the personal physician of Emperor Hadrian can be considered the first poetry therapist. He prescribed reading tragedy for his manic patients and comedy for the depressed ones (NAPT, 2004). In addition famous poets such as William Carlos Williams, Anton Chekhov, John Keats and Oliver Wendell Holmes were also physicians.

Poetry therapy or “bibliotherapy” refers to the intentional use of poetry and other forms of literature for healing and personal growth (Collins, Fuhrman & Langer, 2006). Benjamin Rush, who was considered “the Father of Psychiatry” was also an American pioneer in bibliotherapy. He included a library in his hospital so patients could read poetry and other literature prescribed by their doctors (Shelton, 1999). Later on Eli Griefer, Dr. Leedy, Arthur Lerner, Ann White, Deborah Grayson, Gil Schloss, and Ruth Lisa Schechter built on his work and provided formal frameworks for the use of poetry in therapy.

Reading poems allow clients to explore intimate feelings that are buried in their subconscious and identify how these feelings relate to their current life circumstances. Poetry’s combination of language, syntax, imagery, simile, metaphor, rhyming scheme, rhythm, alliteration provide for a unique healing offering (Lerner, 1997). Freud (1908) referred to poetry as the “royal road to the unconscious”, because poetry utilises similar mechanisms as dreams (e.g. imagery, condensation and displacement).

A widely used poem in poetry therapy is Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” (1920) which presents the metaphor of a traveler making decisions about which path to take, just as clients make important life choices in their own journey (Collins et al., 2006):

The Road Not Taken
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

One of my favourite contemporary poets is David Whyte with his uncanny ability to head straight to the core of things. But I also refer to Rumi, John O’Donohue, Leonard Cohen and many more…

For a more complete list refer to my pin-interest site:

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Collins, S. K., Furman, R., & Longer, C. L. (2006). Poetry therapy as a tool of cognitively
based practice. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 33, 180–187.

Freud, S. (1908). The relation of the poet to day-dreaming. In S. Freud (Ed.) On creativity and the unconscious: The psychology of art, literature, love, and religion (collected writings) (pp. 44-54). New York: Random House.

Lerner, A. (1997). A look at poetry therapy: The Arts in Psychotherapy Vol 24(1) 1997, 81-89.

Shelton, Deborah L. Poetry as Healer. American Medical News. 17 May 1999.

Weimerskirch, P. J. (1965). Benjamin Rush and John Minson Galt, II. Pioneers of bibliotherapy in America. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, 53(4), 510-526.

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Create your FERTILITY vision board

Vision boards are a tool that help you identify and clarify goals that you would like to achieve and keep you on track to manifest them. To make them you select words, images, and colours that reflect your visions and desires for the future.

Use any pictures and words that really jump out and speak to you. You can use magazine clippings and photos but also your own writings and drawings. Get the creative juices flowing and approach your fertility or TTC (trying to conceive) journey in a different fun, enjoyable way. During the process you might also find out a few new things you didn’t know about yourself.

You might want to put your vision board up somewhere in your home so you are reminded of what you want to focus on during this journey. Goals may be to successfully fall pregnant, give birth to a healthy baby, find relaxation and stress relief, maintain/ or improve your well-being, strengthen the relationship with your partner/spouse etc.

To create your own fertility vision board in a supportive environment with like-minded women, join our upcoming preconception workshop:

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Trying for a BABY can put a strain on your RELATIONSHIP

Image courtesy of “smarnad″

Image courtesy of “smarnad″

Trying for a baby is supposed to be one of the most exciting and fun time in your relationship. However, when it does not happen as quickly as planned it can put an enormous strain on a relationship. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of couples in Australia will have difficulty conceiving a child.

Conceiving a baby is not as easy as many people think. Even a completely healthy couple under optimal conditions only has a 20-25 percent chance of conceiving each month. Trying for a baby often requires patience and managing disappointment during this emotional roller-coaster ride of anticipation, hope and despair.

When it seems that your entire life revolves around having a healthy baby, an again negative pregnancy test takes its toll on your confidence and your relationship.

Social encounters can become like a mind field when having to navigate questions about having a baby or facing announcements of other pregnancies or births.

Everyone is different, dealing with conception difficulties in their own way. Some people may become distant or depressed, detaching themselves from a relationship that in their eyes has failed them. Either partner may exhibit negative emotions such as anger, hostility, isolation, feeling blamed, unsupported, overwhelmed, misunderstood, and worries about a possible break-up of the relationship.

How can you support yourself and your relationship?

Struggling to have a baby causes distress and brings up intense emotions. It is important to acknowledge these difficult feelings so you can get in touch with your needs.

Where are you at? One way to express yourself is through writing maybe by keeping a journal. Social psychologist Jamie Pennebaker conducted research on the benefits for mental and physical health from writing about negative feelings and experiences. Expressing yourself and your thoughts, worries and emotions, is channelling what you are going through in a constructive way.

You and your partner are in this together – which makes it important for both of you to be supportive of each other. Communicate openly and share your feelings with each other. Discuss your frustrations, emotions, and anything else that the conception process brings up. Talking with and listening to each other can further mutual understanding, help bring you closer and deepen your relationship.

Get information on what you are going through. Knowing what to expect not only helps to validate what you are going through but also eliminate some uncertainty.

Join a support group. It can feel pretty isolating when all your friends and family are either pregnant or already have children. Sharing your experience with other couples and hearing them discuss the same frustrations helps to realize that you are not alone. Here’s a contact in the Melbourne area:

Attend a fertility yoga class to nourish and stimulate the reproductive organs, reduce stress and relax the mind and body:

See a psychotherapist or counsellor to resolve emotional blocks around falling pregnant: or

Choose a mind-body approach as your ability to conceive is deeply influenced by the complex interaction between physiological, psychological, and emotional factors. Emotional and psychological issues around conceiving are held on a conscious or unconscious level. Often successful conceptions happens once these underlying causes are explored and life style changes (e.g. environment, food, exercise, stress levels, sleep, satisfaction with life) have been made.

Check out our upcoming preconception workshop: We’ll address anxiety and worries around falling pregnant and you will learn simple but effective techniques to support reproductive health and aid in conception:

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Stress around trying to fall PREGNANT

Image courtesy of “dream designs″

Image courtesy of “dream designs″

Flyer-Preconception_Bloch-Atefi_ShawTrying to conceive?

The journey to conception can be stressful. There is so much waiting, hoping and disappointment when things do not go according to plan. What adds to the problem is that we cannot get pregnant when we are really stressed, but not getting pregnant is the reason we are really stressed!

Your mind can affect your ability to get pregnant on multiple levels. Intense or repeated emotional responses to personal, social, and work-related stressors can cause a physical reaction in the body, throwing it into a state of emergency. The hypothalamus activates the so called fight-or-flight response to protect us from harm.

As you might know, reproduction is one of the most delicate systems in our body. Over time, the prolonged cumulative effect of this stress can affect your reproductive system in a negative way. Since the reproductive system is not vital for immediate survival, its function is suppressed and the body’s energy is directed elsewhere in preparation to fight or flee.

The hypothalamus gland is not only responsible for providing balance in our bodies but also helps control the levels of key fertility hormones LH and FSH through the pituitary gland. If the hypothalamus senses stress, the messages sent to the ovary to release eggs may be interrupted and cause stress-induced infertility.

To break this pattern the underlying emotional tension must be addressed. You might carry negative beliefs such as: “My whole happiness depends on having a baby,” or “It’s my fault that I can’t get pregnant.” A recent study on mind body interventions and pregnancy rates in IVF patients (Domar et al., 2011) found that women who completed a mind body stress reduction program had higher pregnancy rates (cklick here for more info).

Similarly, Victoria Shaw, an expert on conception says “Having counselled hundreds of women through fertility struggles, and so many report levels of stress and anxiety that reduce them to tears of hopelessness and frustration. The stress this puts on their bodies, and the cocktail of hormones that stress and anxiety are creating in their systems, is further reducing their chances of conceiving. Even though they know they need to relax, that is no easy thing to do, no matter how hard it is wished for. However, there are tools they can learn that teach the mindbody system to progressively relax, and many women then find the journey to conception shorter and more fulfilling.

How can you tell you are STRESSED?
If you have a busy schedule chances are you might not be able to tell that you are stressed. Do you feel tense? Have difficulty falling asleep? Unable to make decisions? Find yourself procrastinating? Do you hold your breath? Rushing to meet deadlines? Getting really upset when things didn’t go to plan? You might find yourself feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, having thoughts like “I can’t do this”, “I can’t cope”, feeling irritable and overwhelmed. These can all be signs of stress.

How can you reduce the effect of Stress on your Fertility
Just telling yourself to relax or worse being told to “just relax” will in most cases not only NOT work but might put even more pressure on yourself. Learning to relax is a skill and like any other skill it takes time to learn it.
As everyone reacts to stress differently, there is not one technique that fits all. There are many different stress reduction tools and there is no right or wrong way of doing this. Some people need to be physically active to quieten their mind. The point is, everyone is different and you might have to do a bit of experimenting before you know what’s most beneficial to you:

You might want to try:
– Breathing techniques
– Mindfulness practices
– Moderate exercise
– Yoga
– Progressive muscle relaxation
– Visualisation
– Biofeedback
– Aromatherapy
– Relaxing music
– Massage therapy
– Keeping a journal

How can you tell you are RELAXED?
– There’s quietness in the mindfulness
– You experience feelings of contentment
– There’s no tightness or holding in your body
– The muscles in your face are relaxed and softened
– Your breathing is deep and even
– There’s a sense of opening and letting go
– Slower heart rate

Other options (which are by no means exhaustive) worth exploring when it comes to aid conceiving are:
– Chinese medicine to enhance fertility
– Chiropractic treatment, as spinal health contributes to fertility
– Fertility Yoga (specific postures to nourish and stimulate the reproductive organs)
– Acupuncture to support your IVF treatments
– Psychotherapy or counselling to identify negative beliefs and other underlying emotional or psychological issues

Check out our upcoming Preconception Workshop: We’ll address anxiety and worries around falling pregnant and you will learn simple but effective techniques to support reproductive health and aid in conception:

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Alice D. Domar, Kristin L. Rooney, Benjamin Wiegand, E. John Orav, Michael M. Alper, Brian M. Berger, Janeta Nikolovski. Impact of a group mind/body intervention on pregnancy rates in IVF patients. Fertility and Sterility, 2011; DOI:

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Stress and Perfectionism

Not only being inspired by the quote but also by the author Alfred Adler (1870 – 1937) himself, a fellow Austrian (yes paying tribute to my country of birth), who was a psychotherapist and pioneer in the field of Humanist Psychology.

Adler (1951) suggested that perfectionism is a defense mechanism to compensate for inferiority feelings stemming from childhood.

Many of us do battle with varying degrees of perfectionism. If as children we were unfavourably compared to others, criticised and or emotionally abandoned we are likely to compensate with perfectionism as a coping mechanism. Perfectionism offers a sense of control for the powerless child, who believes that “If I am perfect or being perceived as perfect, I can avoid or minimise the painful feelings of shame, judgement, and abandonment.”

Of course there is no such thing as being perfect. Basco (1999) has defined perfectionism as “an endless striving in which each task is seen as a challenge and no effort is ever good enough, yet the person continues in desperation to avoid mistakes, achieve perfection, and gain approval” (p. 5). Hence a viscous cycle is set in place. Because when we do experience shame, judgement, and abandonment we often believe it is because we did not perform perfectly and just have to try harder. The problem is it will never be good or perfect enough and therefore everything ultimately leads to disappointment. Perfectionists are likely to become chronically irritated, frustrated, discontent and angry as things are never as they should be.

When we persist with perfectionist behaviour despite these negative consequences (e.g. sacrificing relationships and opportunities) it can take on the form of an addiction. As there is a biochemical response (e.g. happy, sad) every time the thought or impulse resurfaces, the body becomes habituated to the behaviour, contributing to the addictive quality of perfectionism.

Perfectionism goes hand in hand with a harsh inner critic that finds fault with everything and fuels negative beliefs such as ”I must never make mistakes, and if I do I am a failure”. This is accompanied by worrying about failure and what others think. Because of the distress caused by perceived failure perfectionism can have a pretty stifling effect on our lives. Not only has it been linked to obsessive compulsive behaviour, anxiety, depression (Nadich et al., 1975), and eating disorders (Bardone-Cone et al., 2007) its also leads to procrastination. When we are too occupied with avoiding mistakes and fending off failure we often won’t even risk trying.

Seeking perfection also stands in the way of our authentic self: We try to adhere to impossible standards, striving for a version of who we think we should be, instead of exploring and accepting who we are as well as listening to our needs and dreams.

What are symptoms of perfectionism?
-All-or-Nothing/Black and white thinking
-Obsessive worrying
-Devaluing Comparisons To others
-Harsh Judgements of Self & Others
-When things are not perfect, you feel tense, anxious
-Feelings of worthlessness when you don’t perform perfectly
-Lack of flexibility in the standards imposed upon oneself and others

So how can we disarm the inner critic and let go of perfectionism?

According to Greenspan (2000) “the healing of perfectionism involves not only the discovery and counteracting of perfectionistic internal messages, but also the development of feelings of unconditional acceptability as a person” (p. 209).

Awareness is always the first step. Noticing thought and behaviour patterns in a kind, compassionate way without being judgemental about it, as that would just feed our inner critic.

Another important step is to get to know the negative inner voice:
-What does it say, when does it show up?
-Does it remind us of someone familiar?
-Is there any bodily sensation that goes with it?
-Start Dialogues with the Inner critic – Thank it for its protective function in childhood but stand up to it by saying that you have better ways of coping now.
-Focus on something you like within yourself.

Having the courage of being open to who we are and what we’re feeling, be it good or bad. To overcome perfectionism we need to be able to acknowledge our vulnerabilities (see Brene Brown’s talk on vulnerability) to the universal experiences of shame, disappointment and failure.

So in a nutshell “the courage to be imperfect”, gives us the opportunity to get in touch with our authentic, core SELF.

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Adler, A. (1951), The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology, trans. P. Radin. New York: Humanities Press.

Bardone-Cone AM, Wonderlich SA, Frost RO, Bulik CM, Mitchell JE, Uppala S, Simonich H: Perfectionism and eating disorders: current status and future directions. Clin Psychology Rev 2007, 27:384–405

Basco, M. R. (1999). Never good enough: Freeing yourself from the chains of perfectionism.New York,NY: Free Press.

Greenspan, T. (2000). ’Healthy Perfectionism’ is an Oxymoron! Journal of Secondary Gifted Education 11, 197-209.

Nadich, M., Gargan, M. and Michael, L. (1975). Denial, anxiety, locus of control and the discrepancy between aspiration and achievement as components of depression. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 84, 1-9.

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STRESS & physical exercise

Image courtesy of "foto76"

Image courtesy of “foto76”

Different forms of stress (sudden losses or everyday stressors) can have a detrimental effect on your health especially if they are not processed but stay in your system. Meaning your body is on an alert position causing adrenaline and cortisol to be released into your blood stream. Overtime this causes your sympathetic nervous system to be in a perpetual state of “fight or flight” which can result in a adrenal burnout. Consequently your immune system becomes impaired, you might have trouble sleeping, experience weight gain, mood swings and hormonal imbalances.

The most basic building blocks of effective stress management are addressing your body’s basic needs for sleep, exercise and nutrition (e.g. balanced diet, no processed foods, staying hydrated, Magnesium, Fish Oil, Vitamin C, Vitamin B).

Almost any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever. Physical exercise helps to release built up tension, increases production of endorphins as well as reduces hormones that serve as messengers of stress. It also induces a “meditative state”, leaving the day’s stresses behind by solely focussing on the movement you are engaged in. Exercise can also improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress. Additionally, movement increases breathing and heart rate so that more blood flows to the brain, enhancing energy production and detoxification.

A particular good exercise for stress relief is walking. Anyone can do it and its easy to adapt it to your schedule. Apart from the obvious (oxygenation, strengthening your immune system, increasing core strength, improving back pain etc) it also helps to reduce emotional built up through engaging left and and right brain processing.

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