Archive: Holistic Health

Pas de deux

Pas de deux

Pas de deux. This dance of life, always between two beings. Making it possible to change and grow.

The charming image of the junior egret learning from its parent … learning, perhaps, how to show off and impress others. How to spread its wings and begin to taste freedom.

We live in a world where growth and life isn’t even possible without this dance. Even if we believe we’ve done it all ourselves, we haven’t. Each one of us have had opportunities provided by others and the world around us.

I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given, and grateful for the chance to provide that for others.


Burning the Candle at Both Ends

Opportunities that come our way are only good if we’re ready and open for them.  This means being focused and relaxed – and happy. The opposite of relaxed focus is being anxious or burnt-out.  If you’re experiencing this, you may find my online course Burning the Candle at Both Ends worthwhile.

It’s starting now.  Click here if you’re interested in learning about it.

How to gain energy, and not lose it, doing what you love



Which situation would you rather be in?

  • Working on something you love, or that’s important; getting the support you need. No judgment, put-downs, control issues, hidden agendas. No isolation. Instead, being around others who really like you, and who you really like. Who appreciate what you do and how you do it. Who are willing to try things out and see what happens. Or,
  • Working on something you love, or that’s important; not getting any meaningful or positive support. Surrounded by implied threats, judgments, expectations, criticism. Where nothing you do is up to scratch – or barely up to scratch – or judged that way, even if you know it really is.

I’ve been in both, and no matter how great the work is, I no longer have the energy or patience to stick with the second. That kind of negativity is toxic and eventually drains me of all energy and ambition.

These days, I look for opportunities to collaborate with others who I like to be around. Who I feel good around. And who appreciate what I do.

I’ve learned this the hard way. Perhaps you have too.

What happened to me was I eventually burnt out. What I did about it is what my online workshop on Burning the Candle at Both Ends is all about. It’s starting this October. Click here if you’re interested in learning about it.


Mindfulness and Mindlessness

I meditate every morning – for at least half an hour. Sometimes, I end up gaining energy and a kind of delightful groundedness from it that can carry me through the rest of the day. Sometimes, I feel it’s little more than sleeping sitting up, where the entire time can go by in a blink.

Ellen Langer would call the first instance one of mindfulness, and the second one of mindlessness.  Ms. Langer is a social psychologist at Harvard University, who has studied Mindfulness and what she calls Mindlessness since at least the 1970’s.  In a recent podcast, she spoke about what mindfulness really means for her.

She defines Mindfulness as the simple act of actively noticing things. For her, being mindful doesn’t necessarily involve meditating or yoga, or any particular recommended way of being. All of these things can be mindful, and they can also be unmindful, depending on how we are while we do them.

From her studies, experiments and research, she concludes that most of us are mindless most of the time, and that this mindlessness is at least a major contributor to illness and unhappiness in our lives.

In one study, for instance, which she terms Counter-Clockwise, she has a group of men in their 80’s live in a retreat for a week that has been retrofitted to around 20 years earlier. These men were to act as if this retrofit were in the present (i.e., as if they were 20 years younger).  What she discovered, by measuring their physical and emotional well-being after that week, was that they not only felt 20 years younger, but that their hearing, vision, memory and strength had all significantly improved.

Her work addresses the mind/body question in an intriguing way: most of us still separate the mind from the body – looking at how the mind influences the body and vice versa.  She doesn’t make this distinction. Instead, she sees mind and body as inseparable.

With this perspective, the Placebo can be seen as a powerful and valid drug instead of a mistake; one that unlocks our brain’s inner pharmacy, and gives us mastery over our own health. How empowering that is!

I could talk endlessly about the implications and applications stated and implied by Ms. Langer that come from her approach and perspective, but will offer up one that we can all use right away: re-invigorating our personal relationships.

Most, if not all, of us can find ourselves getting too used to our life partners.  The prevailing wisdom when that happens is to change things up; to freshen that relationship by making it new again.  And some people manage to do that with success.  Or, you can try this:

Every day for a week, make a point of actively noticing 5 things about your partner. For instance, you might notice today that he or she carefully folded their pajamas before leaving for work. What you notice doesn’t have to be profound; it simply needs to be something you actively engage in in the moment.

What happens?  A revitalized connection to your partner.


Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at .


The secret to building trust and never feeling alone again

After waiting 20 minutes on the line for a customer service rep to get back to me, the line suddenly goes dead.  When I call back, and after re-stating all the preliminaries – my name, email address, phone number, and what the issue is, I end up getting bumped to someone else. After restating everything again, I’m told it isn’t something they deal with, and they end the call. I know it is something they deal with, so if I have time to do it all over again, I try another time, hoping to get someone else who is more responsive.

Have you ever experienced this?

Probably – it’s more common that anyone would like. All I really needed from that rep were words like r “That sucks, would you mind holding for a few minutes while I see what I can do?” (and then after a few minutes get back to me with an update).  I know before I call that my problem might not be fixed the way I’d like, but knowing the person at the other end is doing their best leaves me feeling that person cares, and I end up trusting that they will follow through.

Seth Godin talks about how hard it is to build trust, and how easy to destroy it:  All it takes is a moment –  a few thoughtless words, “a heartless broken promise, a lack of empathy”  – and the trust is gone.

As a therapist and coach, building trust is all-important. I go to great lengths to let my clients know that they are stepping into a safe space with me.  Without that security, there’s no way they can do their work. I also know how easy it is to break that trust with a thoughtless word or gesture.

The way to build trust – and to break it – is simple.  When I care about the person in front of me, I build trust; when I don’t care, I break it.

This holds true for the customer service rep, the owner of the local dry cleaner, the banker, our financial advisor – even the mailman.  It also holds true for our close relationships.

John Gottman steps through what makes intimate relationships either what he calls “master” or “disaster” relationships. In a relationship that works – a “master” relationship –  the two people show, in various ways, that they care for the other person.  They do this by listening, by keeping a space open for them, by being gentle in their approach. In relationships that are “disasters”, the two people show they don’t care mostly because they feel defensive and are so busy protecting themselves that they haven’t the capacity to care.

At this point, it’s interesting to see the way we relate to another as the way we relate to ourselves – that whoever is in front of us is in an important way a mirror of ourselves.  If we show contempt towards that mirror, what we’re really doing is showing contempt for ourselves.  When we care for that person in the mirror, we care for ourselves.

And so, the next time you find yourself about to yell at that neglectful customer service rep, try this: take a moment and a few deep breaths, and then mirror some genuine care for their lives. And see what happens.

Now I’d love to hear from you about your own experiences, knowledge, opinions.  In the comments below, share one thing that you experienced as a mirror moment that changed your day, or even your life.

This newsletter is in three parts: the first part is my contribution; the second is a video I’ve found that relates to the topic in part 1; the third is a quote. I hope you enjoy the richness this brings to the topic of the week with all three parts.

Simon Sinek – Why good leaders make you feel safe

building trust

Quote of the Week
When people cared about each other, they always found a way to make it work.
– Nicholas Sparks

At times we need more – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages. For more information, visit my website or contact me directly at

Discovering your Character – why you do what you do

character structures

In the first part of the 20th century, Austrian Psychoanalist Wilhelm Reich developed a theory explaining how we respond both physically and emotionally to the challenges we meet in life, especially in early life.  From his studies, others have expanded on his discoveries – Alexandar Lowen, Johnson, Painter, Ida Rolf and many others.  There is also a similar body of knowledge in some shamanic traditions. Following is my interpretation of character structures, integrated with my learnings from Gestalt Psychotherapy and many other modalities.

The idea behind all of these is that:

  1. Human beings are made up of emotional, mental and physical parts that operate as a unit and influence each other;
  2. Living involves encountering things and events that threaten us; and
  3. We adjust to these events by “armoring” ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally.

Depending on when the events occurred, and the context surrounding these events, human beings will typically “armor” in predictable ways. There are 5 primary ways, and these are called Schizoid, Oral, Masochist (sometimes called the Endurer), Rigid, and Psychopath (sometimes called the Challenger).  These terms are sometimes hard to swallow, and are meant to highlight the kinds of issues those armored in this way encounter.

That’s the protective side.  There’s also a good side to this: the ways we armor ourselves are also the ways we interact and learn from our environment. The 5 primary ways we interact are projection, confluence, retroflection, introjection and egotism.  These – to my mind – correspond directly to the character structures.  In Gestalt terms, we use all of these capabilities to “creatively adjust” to the events in our enviromnent that impact us – either positively or negatively.

If we adjust in a positive way, we are better able to process what we encounter; if we adjust negatively, we armor ourselves and are eventually not able to process what we encounter; instead we react to triggers in our environment that we seek protection from.

I will speak briefly about each of the 5 character structures in the next 5 weeks.  If you find this interesting, there are many texts on this subject for you to read, and I along with my friend and colleague Jane Mactinger will be holding a workshop on Character Structures in the near future.  Stay tuned for a date and time.


Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at .

Coach or Therapist? When to chose one or the other

Coach or Therapist

I’m both a coach and a therapist.  Even when I was offering only therapy, I would often get asked the question “Maryanne, what’s the difference? Why would I choose one over the other?”

I was asked this three times this past week, so I thought I’d address it in my blog, even though it’s dissimilar to what I usually talk about.

A therapist, meaning a psychotherapist – at least in Ontario – is a trained professional who is licensed by a regulatory body to practice. She has proven competencies and a minimum number of practice hours in the field of psychotherapy. A coach isn’t regulated, and the level of training and experience of a coach can vary widely – anywhere from a few weekends to a few years.

I’m going to assume for the purposes of comparison that both coach and therapist have comparable training and experience. So when would I want to see one over the other?

A coach is active, a therapist is more a listener.  Some, including many coaches, believe that therapists see “sick” people, and that coaches see “healthy” people.  I just heard that from a prominent international coach, who always gets this question.  This isn’t true.

What is a “sick” person anyway?  If you’re depressed are you sick?  What if you’re anxious?  Who isn’t depressed or anxious at times?  What about being stuck over some issue that ends up being a huge distraction? If you follow the medical model, then you might believe that someone suffering from depression is “sick”.  I’m not one of those who do follow that model, and there is a growing number of professionals who no longer follow it.

Why? Because labelling someone as sick when they are having emotional issues doesn’t help: if we decide a person is sick, then we look for some external source – like a drug – that will make them better.  But research is proving that no anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication, on its own, works.  The only thing that works is the therapy that accompanies the drugs: it’s the trusting relationship that is built between the therapist and client that eventually leads to relief for the client (and growth for the therapist, because a relationship is always a two-way street). By the way, this is also true for the relationship built between a coach and client.

With this in mind, when to go to a therapist and when to go to a coach becomes a little clearer.  As a therapist, I work with someone at their pace to help them get unstuck from a very stuck place. I am limited by my regulatory college in what I can do, and it can often take some time before my client is able to resolve the issue they came with. As a coach, I offer a set number of sessions with a specific goal in mind: I give my client weekly actionables, with the expectation that they already have the ability to deal with whatever issues are blocking them with little or no resistance. If in the course of the program, we hit something deeper and less movable, then we can take some time out to deal with it, or I refer her to a therapist colleague, who deals with that issue separately.

If you’re stuck in a place that has you going nowhere and are wanting to know which to see – a therapist or a coach – ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I hurting enough to be willing to do whatever it takes to resolve the issue; or am I reluctant to let go of the coping strategies that I’ve put in place, even if they make me miserable? This may seem like a no-brainer, but those strategies were put in place for a reason, and it’s scary to let go of them.  Are you ready?  If not – if you feel you need to deal with this at a slower pace, then a therapist might be the better answer.
  • Am I willing to take the time to work with a coach for 2 to 3 hours each week over the next 3 to 4 months? Therapy takes longer, and this might be the better option for you.  Coaching is more action-oriented – there’s more homework – and correspondingly leads to faster results.
  • Am I willing to commit to a 3 to 4 month program? Therapy sessions are one at a time (so that there is no pressure to achieve major changes in a set period of time), and paid for one at a time; coaching comes in packages and are typically paid for up front.  A good coach will be investing a great deal of their time in designing and facilitating a program for you, and to make it worthwhile, will ask for commitment in the form of compensation up front.

No answer is better than any other.  The only criteria are an honest assessment of your needs.


Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at .

Unrealistic Expectations?

I was inspired to write this after watching a past episode of Marie TV where she talked about times when we are told our dreams are “too big”. I’ve been a dreamer all my life. This worried my mother, who’s one constant refrain to me was “Come down to Earth!”. I know she was worried I’d be disappointed, but her worry created in me self-doubt.

At times, my dreams and expectations are, indeed, unrealistic. Those times always begin with incorrect assumptions on my part that I haven’t verified – often haven’t even considered. For example, as a kid, I spent one full summer turning the clay of the Alberta prairies into bowls and pots, sun baked and water-colored.  My brother and I worked in tandem – he spent his days digging tunnels, creating a maze of ‘forts”, and I gladly re-purposed his leftover clay.  Unknown to either of us – because we hadn’t considered it – was the inherent crumbliness of clay: his tunnels and forts could only work if confined to a relatively small area, being, in fact, shored up by the rest of the field.  We also didn’t consider the hundreds of Prairie Dogs, who habitually dug through constructed clay walls, weakening the structure.  So, if you haven’t guessed by now, the entire infrastructure collapsed one day – fortunately with no one inside.  And that was the end of that enterprise. A little forethought could have saved us a lot.

That was a fun experience, and I remember it that way (kids would not likely have a chance of doing something like that these days).  But other more recent ones weren’t fun – like the time I misjudged a contractor because I thought he came recommended but discovered – too late – that the person who referred him had been paid to do so.  My focus had been on what I wanted and what I was going to do with it, and it blinded me to the incorrect or incomplete assumptions I made going in, and upon which everything else was based. Those kinds of experiences made me doubt myself – maybe I’d bitten off more than I could chew; maybe I was indeed dreaming too big. But the truth is that I wasn’t dreaming too big; the truth was that I didn’t actually have enough trust in myself, and relied on others when it wasn’t justified.  Until I learnt that lesson, I kept spoiling my own dreams.  One friend called this jumping in without looking.

That’s what I did.  That isn’t the only way you can feed self-doubt. Another way is to listen to the nay-sayers that are going to be around whenever you dream big.

The best way to learn to trust yourself is to reality-check your dreams and assumptions. Marie suggests 5 very practical steps to do this:

  1. Frame your dream or expectation. Write it down, because the simple act of writing it down means that you are 40% more likely to achieve it.
  2. Fend off negativity.  Take responsibility for the energy you allow in your life; often we focus on one negative voice instead of the many positive ones.  Allow positive reinforcement, throwing out that one toxic negative voice among the many.  The only opinions that matter are from those who know us, who we admire, and who’ve been where we’re going.
  3. Flood yourself with positive, inspiring examples.  There are so many people who have achieved their dreams, and for most people around them, their dreams were “impossible”.
  4. Fast forward. And listen to that elder you’ll become some day. One big regret of people who are on their deathbed is that they didn’t live the life that was true to themselves but instead lived the life others expected of them.
  5. Focus on action.  The action step is the step that will move you past fear and into your dreams.
  6. And I’ll add one more: check your assumptions. Write them down and then verify them. You might save yourself much heartache, and instead ensure the fruition of your dream.

Dreaming, especially dreaming big, doesn’t mean you’re head’s in the clouds, but it does mean you need to make sure you can make them real, and for that learning to trust yourself and base your actions on solid ground is essential.

Dare to dream – Diana Nyad


 Quote of the Week
Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.― Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings
At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us.  As a registered psychotherapist and stress coach, I offer individual one-on-one consultations. For more information, visit my or contact me directly at

Healthy body – healthy cosmos

When I look at the state of the world today, I see chaos:  in political changes, the falling apart of established treaties, the local work situation, even house prices and the weather.  It seems we hear one thing – that everything is settling down and the economy is good – and witness quite another.

When I begin thinking of these things, I know I can either feel overwhelmed and helpless, or turn my focus onto something I know I can do. That one thing begins with me – how I am in my world.

Tich Nhat Hanh reminded me of this in his recent quote: Keeping your body healthy is an expression of gratitude to the whole cosmos.

Keeping myself healthy takes daily effort and commitment.  I’m reminded of a young person I met recently who either overdoes or underdoes everything (not that I’ve ever done that!) – he either overworks until he pulls a major muscle, or stays in bed, not eating, isolating from his friends and the world.  At his age, he can get away with that self-abuse much longer than I can at my age.  But eventually, his own lack of self-care will translate into his inability to be present with what’s going on around him, and therefore his inability to make good choices that impact him and those he cares about.

What keeps people healthy? Being happy and contented. And what makes this possible? Good, solid relationships.

Robert Waldinger, 4th director of the long term study of Adult Development at Harvard made this point in a recent Ted Talk, the founders of the study asked the question: What if we could study people from the time they were teenagers into old age, to see what really keeps people happy and healthy?  They were able to study men over a period of 75 years, beginning with 724 men. About 60 men are still alive and participating; and they are now studying the more than 2,000 children of these men.  The men were tracked in 2 groups – the first were sophomores at Harvard; the second were a group of boys from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods.

Throughout the 75 years, these men were interviewed, their wives and children interviewed and observed, their medical records scrutinized.  The clearest message they got was this:  good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Period. Conversely, loneliness and isolation is toxic.

The second lesson: the quality of our close relationships matters.  Living in the midst of conflict is very bad for our health – possibly worse than being isolated. When looking at men who had reached middle age, and trying to predict how they would be at 80, the researchers found that it didn’t matter as much what the person’s cholesterol levels were as how satisfied they were in their relationships. On days where there was physical pain, those octogenarians that were in satisfying relationships reported being just as happy as they were on better less painful days, while those who were isolated reported magnified pain.

Third, happy relationships protect not only our bodies but also our brains. In general, our memories stay healthy longer.

Being human and busy, we mostly look for a quick fix – and building relationships isn’t quick.  Many of us focus on diet and exercise, sometimes to the exclusion of the people in our lives.  But in reality, focusing on building happy relationships is more long-lasting in terms of health than anything else. Yes, caring for our physical is important, but how we live with the rest of our fellows is the foundation.

Happy in Denmark – people helping people


Quote of the Day

There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that. -Mark Twain


At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us.  As a registered psychotherapist and stress coach, I offer individual one-on-one consultations.  For more information, visit my website or contact me directly at



Our body – the sacred temple that houses our spirit

Do you love and appreciate your body?

This topic came up in conversation with a friend, who reminded me that our bodies are precious. Without our body, we have no chance to learn and grow, or to connect with the world around us.

Most of us have no idea how we’ve cut ourselves off from knowing how we are physically.  Our focus is always on how much we can do or get done, and that can mean ignoring the back pain, or tight calf, or stiff neck … until it turns into something that can’t be ignored.  Then, if you’re like most of us, we deal with it, returning to ignoring our body’s messages once more the moment we feel better.

Our lives are filled with priorities, responsibilities and obligations. Some days are non-stop; we can easily fall into over-stressing ourselves physically. More and more demands are placed on us. We are trained to ignore our body’s signals; to “power through it”. Mind over matter.

And yet, there is only so much our bodies will take before breaking down.  Like the engine that it is, it needs regular maintenance and care; and like any other engine, if it runs continuously, it won’t be long before it begins to show signs of wear and tear.

Learning to sense what our bodies need at any moment is a skill that we as young children knew, then lost as we grew into teenagers. We lost the connection to the subtle signals our bodies give us – the “nudges” and whispers that are saying “slow down”, or “take a break”, or simply “stop!”.

Our body is the sacred temple that houses our spirit.  Without this body, we have no chance to grow and evolve.  It deserves our utmost respect and care.  On those days when I listen, I might hear “slow down!” from that twinge in my back.  If I listen, I’ll still get done what’s essential, finding a better, less stressed way to fulfill my obligations, responsibilities and priorities.

If you’ve lost that sacred connection to your body, and want to regain it, then get reconnected by trying this.

  • Greet your body every morning when you wake. Take a few minutes to feel out how it’s doing and what it needs. Discover how those needs can be met. It will be subtle.  For instance, when I woke this morning, I was reminded that yesterday was physically taxing because my neck felt stiff, and my body didn’t want to move quickly.  So I took things a little more slowly than usual, giving my body time to ease into the day.
  • Check in with your body at least three times during the day.  Set a timer so that you don’t forget.  Rebuild that habit you once had as a child.
  • Take a moment to connect before sleep, in gratitude for how your body has supported you today.

Warm-Heartedness for Healthy Mind, Healthy Body – Dalai Lama

Quote of the Week

Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.
-Jim Rohn
At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us.  As a registered psychotherapist and stress coach, I offer individual one-on-one consultations. For more information, visit my website or contact me directly at

Getting Healthy is a Team Sport

I was reminded this week by a friend who is going through stressful times, that physical health depends not only on eating well and treating our bodies well, it also depends on how well we feel.  For instance, I can eat three light and vegetable-laden meals a day, get in a healthy 10,000 steps, and a solid 8 hours of sleep, but if I’m also stressed and working 16 hour days, all that effort to maintain my physical health will eventually fail.  These efforts may delay the onset of something serious, but it won’t stop it.

Research shows that our bodies work differently when we’re stressed. In an attempt to conserve energy, our bodies when stressed convert sugars and carbohydrates into fats at a much higher rate than usual. The more we’re stressed, the more this happens.  When we’re in our 20’s and 30’s, we might not notice this as much as we do when we get into our 40’s and 50’s because we have energy to spare and can easily compensate.  But when we hit our 40’s, things change; it gets harder and harder to keep up and our health begins to break down. For this reason, medical experts call diseases caused by stress, such as type II diabetes and hypertension, diseases of slow accumulation.

One activity that can definitely help us in dealing with stress and poor health is to turn the effort into a community one. Humans are social animals. When we isolate, we increase our stress levels. So it makes sense to support ourselves in reducing stress and regaining our health with the mutual support of our friends.

Marie Forleo interviewed Dr. Mark Hyman on how getting healthy requires (i.e., not an option) working and connection with other people.

He found from working around the world that chronic disease is actually communicable, in that it’s a social disease.  Social drivers impact the prevalence of diabetes, obesity and other habits and available foods that ultimately cause disease.  Think of the last time you were out with friends – did everyone order a desert after? And if they did, did you too?  Probably, because we are influenced by who we’re with.
He therefore recommends three things:

  • “Friend” power is more powerful than will power. Use your social network to get yourselves and your community healthy.  We can intentionally help each other live better lives: instead of meeting and sharing ribs and fries, with cake afterwards, why not support each other to eat well, exercise weekly, shop together.  Small groups who do this are more successful getting healthy than most people doing it on their own.
  • Live in a supportive area.  Studies show that just changing your zip code can influence your health.  Does your area support walking?  Are there grocery stores available where you can get affordable produce? It makes a difference.
  • Eat healthy. Food influences our immune system, our metabolism, and the way we store fat.  It affects all hormones, the bacteria in our gut – which regulates food processing. He claims that “By transforming food, you can upgrade your biological software literally within days”.

One thing we don’t realize is how close we are to health – you don’t need a doctor or a nutritionist. What you need is a mutually supportive team.

Sebastian Junger: Our lonely society makes it hard to come home from war


Quote of the Week

If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.
– George Burns


At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us.  As a registered psychotherapist and stress coach, I offer individual one-on-one consultations. For more information, visit my or contact me directly at