The Joy of Creating Art with Children

-by Abby Leese

In her book The Gifts of ImperfectionBrene Brown writes, “If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. Cook, write, draw, doodle, paint, scrapbook, take pictures, collage, knit, rebuild an engine, sculpt, dance, decorate, act, sing—it doesn’t matter. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning.”

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It is my experience as well that learning to make meaning by practicing making meaning is as important for a child as it is for an adult.  The more comfortable we are with ourselves as makers, the more comfortable we can be with our role in contributing to the world around us.

Encouraging children to create and play in a safe, engaging space is one of my passions and one of the gifts I feel I can offer to my community. Providing children with children interesting art and play materials and giving them the freedom to explore yields incredible results in terms of the art a child makes and in terms of their everyday lives.

Art instructor, Meri Cherry says, “I think creativity at its core is all about making connections, either with ourselves, our ideas, or those around us. The very act of making allows for a different kind of freedom that can connect us to who we truly are.”

I too believe that we get in touch with our thoughts, our feelings, and gain a sense of self when even the youngest of us take time to create.  We make meaning, learn to problem solve, and gain a sense of the beauty in the world when we make art.

The joy of creating art with children is about more than the product they create – it is about helping them find joy, confidence, and connection in the process of making something new.


View More: http://juliehagenbuchphoto.pass.us/leeseAbby Leese

I am an innovative thinker with a commitment to nurturing creative thinking with children. I have led Art wtih Kids at Dillsburg Farmers’ Market several Saturdays a Summer for four Summers. Beginning in 2019, I’ll be joining Om Baby to teach Budding Artists and other children’s art classes.  I am the mother of a seven year old innovator. I am also the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Etters where I value creativity as a way to connect to other people, to ourselves, and to our faith.

You can connect with Abby on Instagram at @art_with_kids.

Find Abby at Om Baby_»
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Love After Baby

by Holly Keich

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© Hollis Healy

Raising a baby is hard work. Harder than you can ever imagine before arriving home with your beautiful, new bundle. It’s a significant life change that requires 24/7 vigilance, love, understanding, compassion, and patience on just a few hours of interrupted sleep a day.  I don’t know about you, but that’s a tall order for me.  In fact, it’s a tall order for many parents and in turn directly effects couples relationships with each other as well.  In fact, 67% of couples become very unhappy with each other during the first 3 years of life. (1)

The relationship between parents can become the first thing to take a hiatus when baby arrives.  But studies show that the best thing you can give your baby is a happy and strong relationship.  So how do you do that when you’re feeling overwhelmed and what used to be disagreements between the two of you turn into destructive fights?

Babies offer new things to fight over and before you know it you’re even arguing over things you agree on. How does this happen?  Disagreements become less about the content or what the real issues are and become arguments about how you fight. For example, you disagree about where the bottles should be placed in the dishwasher.  It’s an extension of your usual disagreement about the proper placement of dishes in the dishwasher.  You think bottom shelf, he says top shelf. Instead of discussing the real issue, that you feel overwhelmed by this whole parenting thing and just want to do right by your child, you dig in and say he’s wrong and here’s why. He feels attacked when he was just trying to help and defends himself with a quick, snarky comeback.

And Baby Makes ThreeAll couples have arguments and disagree, it’s part of life. That won’t change, but how you relate to each other when there are conflicts could be significantly improved with just a few healthy conflict management skills.  And Baby Makes Three by John Gottman, PhD and Julie Schwartz Gottman, PhD is a wonderful book that offer us guideposts for maintaining a relationship while parenting based on years of work with couples and a 13 year study that looked in detail at couples interactions after baby.  Let’s take a look at what they identified as healthy conflict management skills.

1. Soften  How You Start the Discussion

As soon as the first word is said, you know there’s a going to be trouble. Take a breath, check in with yourself.  What are you feeling? How can we express what we need if we don’t even know how we feel. Once you’re clear with yourself, state how you feel, neutrally. Describe the situation and state what you do need, not what you don’t need.

2. Accept Influence by Recognizing There are Two Valid Viewpoints

We’ve all heard there are two sides to every story, but in the midst of an argument, we’re convinced that ours is the right side. Regardless, postpone your attempts to persuade your partner about how correct you are.  Listen to your partners’ story, ask questions and restate them so they know you were listening. Get communication flowing before adding in your side of the story.  Remember you’re in this together. If the boat sinks, your both going down and now the baby’s coming with you.

3. Calm Down by Self Soothing

When we’re in the midst of a fight it’s likely that we’re experiencing a heightened arousal state. And whether we realize it or not we become flooded. We move into a fight or flight state and our lower brain centers take control. It’s hard if not impossible to be rational when in this state. So take a mommy and daddy time out for at least a 1/2 an hour. Reduce the adrenaline and cortisol release flooding your body. Don’t sit and ruminate about the fight, unless you’re focusing on your contribution, how you feel and what you need. If you’re feeling completely beyond rational thought do something that is a soothing activity. Then schedule a time to get back together and reconvene the discussion.

4. Compromise

It can be hard to consider, but compromise is a daily staple of a healthy relationship. It’s helpful to identify your core areas of need, things in which you can’t yield. Then consider what areas have greater flexibility? Then discuss how you can come together on a solution.

5. The Aftermath of a Fight: Process and Understand It

Sometimes this needs to be a scheduled event. Find a time where you have the time to  sit and discuss your feelings and point of view without blame. Realize that you have an active role in the argument as much as your partner. Take turns confessing the part you played in the drama. Then take a look at how you could make it better next time?

6. Figure Out the Conversation You Needed to Have Instead of the Fight

As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, often we end up arguing about superficial things when the real heart of the issue is much, much deeper. Each of us have our triggers, some we may not even realize until we’re standing in the dust and debris after the smoke clears. Take a look at what triggers you more closely. Discuss your triggers with your partner so that they know these are the things that set you off and flood your brain with stress hormones. Delve into why these specific items are triggering. Where do they arise from – is it related to past experiences? How could you handle them differently? Make sure you each take time to listen to each other with compassion and avoid delving back into the argument.  If that happens, take another parent time out and reconvene at another time.

7. Move From Gridlock to Dialogue When You Have Unsolvable Problems

Do you ever feel like you’re having the same argument over and over.  It’s because you are.  69% of problems in the couples the Gottmans studied were repeats of the same issue. (2) Perpetual problems arise from fundamental differences in your personalities and lifestyle needs.  In these scenarios, the Gottmans found that values, dreams, and personal philosophies also underlie our gridlocked positions. In order to gain a better understanding of ourselves and each other, we must become “dream detectives”.  You’ll find more info here about what steps to take to undo the gridlock and make dialogue possible about these perpetual issues.

While these steps are extremely useful in cooling down heated situations in your relationship, there are many additional considerations to creating a healthy relationship after baby.  Come join Marriage and Family Therapist, Lynn Brooks to take a deeper look at what makes a loving, connected relationship in We Become Three at Om Baby.  We’ll look at additional strategies and techniques to help you face this major life transition while turning towards each other for closeness and bonding, finding joy in your new family.


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Holly Keich is the owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in Camp Hill.  She is a Licensed Social Worker, Yoga Instructor, Certified Infant Massage Instructor, Parent, Wife and adamant student in the school of life.

Beginning Again

by Holly Keich, LSW

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My cup was empty. Imagine the large soup bowl type coffee cup that you can wrap both hands around to warm yourself on a chilly day.  Imagine it EMPTY.  That’s how I envisioned it anyway. I’d never stopped to fill it. Constantly trying to fill everyone else’s cup and keep things running smoothly. It’s as if I believed perfection could fill it up.

I’d bring my cup, even quite literally once, to communal events expecting others to fill it. But even if I left with my heart filled to the brim, I’d find it empty again soon. It seemed as if the cup was broken and the love would slowly slip away through the cracks leaving me again…EMPTY.

Over time it became obvious that maybe the cup needed to be fixed. Rather than continuing to reach for outside solutions, maybe this needed to be an inside job. And maybe, just maybe, when I doused the cup with attention, caring, and self-love I’d actually uncover an amazing vessel, not transformed by corrections but beautifully revealed anew. A vessel that could not only be filled with love until overflowing, but was actually itself constructed of love and compassion. For self-love is not merely the patch of a spa visit or the band-aid indulgence of a chocolate treat on a difficult day, it’s knowing yourself from within with a clarity like no other and honoring who you see.

In the past, I’d scoured the outside world for an answer to fill my cup, reading passages from Marianne Williamson, books by Brené Brown, listening to interviews and talks by Pema Chödrön and other guests on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday.* I was seeking a deeper understanding of true happiness from a variety of sources. They all pointed me in a similar direction. To sit in the stillness of the moment with a curious eye and an open heart.

All the signs were there continually pointing me in the same direction, but yet instead, with a cautious heart, I chose to read about meditation, contemplate it, study it, listen to others experiences of it, but not actually sit still, relax, get comfortable and do it. In 2018, I resolve that will change. So the question now is, as a busy mom of two, with a full life on the side, how do I start a regular meditation practice and keep it going?

Well, the first tip I found was to “Just Breathe.”  Lucky for me, I can do that.  Wherever I am, my breath is there as a tool for mindfulness.  Breathe in peace and find space.  Exhale that sensation down throughout the body, checking in with a spirit of curiosity. How am I feeling in this moment physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually? Each breath is another opportunity to see myself more clearly, who I truly am here in this moment, without judgment.

While meditation conjures up thoughts of sitting in lotus on a cushion for hours, it luckily does not always have to mean complete stillness because we all know that’s not always possible. Incorporating mindful movement, where we move through an activity with focused attention in this moment, counts. It might be walking, yoga, folding laundry, showering, or even lying with my child until they drift off to sleep. The point is to stay focused on this moment, then this moment, now this moment. Focus on the twitter of birds in the distance; a drishti (or gazing point) in each pose; the feel of the material as it’s creased and folded from a mountain into neat, tidy piles of clean clothing; the temperature of the water as it rolls down the skin; and the smell of my child’s hair as I feel their chest begin to rise and fall more slowly under the warm glow of the nightlight.  Paying full attention to the task at hand is something we all have the time to incorporate into our busy day.

In line with keeping it simple, I plan to develop a mantra. It might be one for each meditation, but maybe one that’s longer-lasting and more enduring with a broader purpose for each day, week, month or maybe even all of 2018. To help keep the habit, I’ll create reminders of the mantra tucked it into my current book, pasted on my bathroom mirror, folded into a note to keep in my purse, on a screen saver across my computer. It’s time to get creative. I’ll need to repeat the mantra as often as I can, consider it a prescription for my health to be provided in regular doses. Open. Warmth. Peace. Love.

Hakini Mudra

Equipped with these new tools, I thought I’d start my New Year’s resolution promptly onNew Year’s Day. Best to start right away or else I might find myself at the end of the day with excuses at every turn. No need to roll out of bed. I’ll give it a go even before anyone knows I’m awake, best to have an undisturbed practice that way. So I tuned into my breath, placed my hands in hakini mudra, focused on my mantra of “open” and settled in to begin.

First I noticed the sounds in the house, my husband in the shower, the muffled sounds of my children watching TV in the living room. Wait, back to the breath. Open. Breathe. I wonder what there is for breakfast. There are leftovers still from Christmas breakfast. Those should probably get tossed. Guess no one liked them. Wait. Thinking. Watch the thoughts pass by as if on a cloud without attachment as I gently and lovingly I bring myself back to this moment, to this breath. With my arm around my inner self’s shoulders, I imagine leading myself back to my center and my mantra.

Scratching. I didn’t even know I had an itch. How did I get here? Pay attention. Wait, be loving. Open. Curious. Breathe again, here now.  …  Coming back to the conscious moment… I have no recollection of the past several minutes. I must have fallen asleep. Oh great. Well, lesson learned. Maybe there is something to that first tip about finding a meditation space in your house. Then I can leave the bed for it’s intended purpose, sleeping. Thinking mind. Back to the breath with a loving heart.

 

This is the practice of meditation. It was not a failure, I am not a failure for thinking, for wandering, for getting lost for that is part of the practice of meditation. It’s the coming back to the breath, to the mantra, to this moment here, now, again and again, that is the practice of meditation. So, tomorrow, I start with a fresh mind and a curious heart.  As Sharon Salzberg says in “Real Happiness” “It’s completely possible to start over.  Wherever we’ve gone, we can begin again.”  

When we are open to change, teachers will arise from many directions. Along with Sharon Salzberg, here are some I hope to explore more in the new year ahead.

Sounds True: A Year of Mindfulness
Real Happiness Meditation Challenge / Sharon Salzberg
Tara Brach
Self-Compassion / Dr. Kristin Neff

Perhaps you’re interested in joining me or maybe you’re already on the path and have suggestions or words of encouragement to keep it going.  Feel free to leave them in the comments below.

May you have a blessed and peaceful New Year!

*Well, to be honest, this is still a regular practice. 😉

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Holly Keich is the owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in Camp Hill.  She is a Licensed Social Worker, Yoga Instructor, Certified Infant Massage Instructor, Parent, Wife and adamant student in the school of life.

There’s No Place Like Om

by Holly Keich

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Om: /ōm/ (noun)  the term that I thought everyone understood when I named my business.  I get a wide range of confused calls, letters or bills from people looking for O.M. Baby, Ohm (think learning about electricity in 6th grade science class) Baby, Om (pronounced ah-m) Baby and the list goes on.  So apparently I was wrong.  How could that be?  *insert sarcasm*  Not everyone knows about Om.

For those of you that have taken a yoga class, there’s a chance that you may have more knowledge of the term, but that’s not guaranteed in our westernized yoga fitness culture.  Om as I describe it in my classes (to keep it short and to the point) means One.  It’s the sound of the universe, the sound that was created before time and can still be heard today if you listen closely enough.**  It unites us all and brings the realization that we have all come from the same place.  We are all one.

We often chant Om at the end of classes as a reminder of that connection before we traverse out into the world that seems so disconnected and fragmented.  Traditionally it is chanted 3 times.  If you break down the sound of Om itself, it is made up of 3 distinctly different sounds that when unified will rhyme with the word “home”;  A “aaah”, U “oooh”, M “mmm.”  The trinity of the sound can be represented by a variety of things, but most often in yogic terms it is translated into the alignment of mind, body, & spirit.  But, the chanting of Om is deeper than seeking the oneness within ourselves alone. It’s about connecting with the oneness in all of us, aligning in union with the universe. The trinity represents past, present and future combining all things in a world that is timeless.  The waking, dreaming and dreamless states of consciousness are united. Om represents all of consciousness.

The vibration of Om is felt in the body and is very calming to the nervous system.  This is true for those chanting as well as those listening.  You may even remember the viral video earlier this year of Daniel Eisenman chanting “om” to his newborn with astounding results. This is something I’ve seen repeated in person during the close of our baby yoga classes. I even suggest to parents that it’s a wonderful parenting tool and mantra that can be very soothing for you and baby in times of stress.

The long, low soothing sound rolls off the tongue, starting at the back of the throat and moves forward ending with the tingle of the humming of the “mmm” sound on the lips. The Om is a culmination of all sound in one tone.  After the sound comes the silence.

In fact, the silence was there before the sound, during and after.  Silence is unchanging, even while sound changes tone or vibration. Silence is ever-present and unchanging.  How many times do we crave for silence?  For the sound, the clutter jingling in our heads, around our homes, and in our world to stop, when in fact the silence is already present.  We just need to learn to tap into it, to understand the duplicity and paradox of the two existing together, as one.  All is One.  Om.

 
**Apparently, according to NASA, there is no sound in space. But through an experiment started in 2010 they took plasma wave data from the sun and translated it into sound.  You can find more info at: https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2013/01nov_ismsounds  and note that not all of the sounds in space sound like Om, but apparently some do:  http://www.hoaxorfact.com/science/nasa-recorded-om-sound-from-sun-facts.html.


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In 2007, when Holly became pregnant with her first child she began teaching prenatal yoga classes that impart not only the wisdom of poses for the childbearing year, but also knowledge of the spiritual and emotional process of becoming a parent. She continued to develop her support of mother, child & family connections through the opening of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in 2008.

7 Ideas to Simplify and Connect This Holiday Season

By Holly Keich

We’re entering into the months of shorter days, longer nights and full calendars. But, before the season takes hold we can pull back and take a look at how we’d like the season to unfold. Rather than grabbing on for dear life as the holidays trample over us with their long to-do lists all decorated with pretty bows and wrapping, take a breath and see what your soul desires of the coming months.  Here are 7 ideas to make it a more meaningful time for you and your family.

1. Set a Family Intention

Have a family meeting and determine what’s most important this holiday season.  What activities make your heart sing and your family join together?  What would put joy and meaning back into your holiday celebrations and allow you to focus on unconditional love and connection?  Is it time together or heading out to celebrate with others?  Are there certain traditions you love and fill you with gratitude?  Each person gets to share what they love most and the family gets to look at what they want to keep to celebrate the spirit of the holiday.

2.  Quiet the calendar

time-2189801_1280Downscale. Keep the focus on the family and the meaningful traditions that replenish you.  Think simplicity, which might mean having to say no. If it’s not on the family intention list, feel the freedom to say “we’re booked.” When setting up your calendar fill it in with special time for the ones you love most.  Make sure there’s down time schedule in – blank spaces on the calendar that don’t get run over with activities.  And if you get invited to one more thing, practice developing your “no” muscle as a personal gift to yourself.

3.  Question Consumerism

Even before each holiday passes, the next holiday is being marketed for us to buy, buy, buy. Living in a consumeristic world, it can be hard to block out the noise. But before making a purchase, head back to your family intentions list and see if it can coexist with your new values. Celebration doesn’t have to mean buying meaningless things that people don’t need.  Minimize where you can.  The process is more important than the outcome. Think low investment, high impact items.  A great idea is to give others a one less gift certificate which can make the holiday more about spending time together than the gifts that we give just for the sake of giving.

4.  Revisit your holiday traditions

Perhaps your passing down traditions that you’ve come to hate or feel overwhelmed bring to fruition. Now is your chance to see if they are still working for your family.  What do you want to keep, what can be tossed, what can you create that’s new? Your family intention should help you identify traditions that bring the most joy.

5.  Connect with the Outdoors

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In winter months, as the colder weather sets in, we tend towards the indoors, but it can be a crucial time to connect with nature. Moving outdoors allows us to feel freer, more open, restoring our mental energy and alleviating stress.  It’s also been shown to boost our immune system – a great benefit during cold and flu season which can turn the holidays from celebration to sedation. Greeting the outdoors can help us to feel grounded during the holidays, nudging us to be okay with a slower pace.

6.  Season of Giving

Giving to others is characteristic of the season. Whether that means generosity with your time or money,  compassion is woven into our very being and is especially noticeable during this time of year. You might hear stories of Walmart layaways being paid off at a local store or other grandiose gestures, but simple, small kindnesses offered with love can have a big impact too. Enjoy the secret pleasure of small Random Acts of Kindness during the holidays (and all year round). Join with the kids to help at a local toy or book drive or other non-profit organization or simply sharing cookies with your neighbors. And don’t forget that Random Acts of Kindness can include yourself which leads us to #7.

7.  Take Care of Yourself

Top of the To Do List :  Breathe!
Smile, laugh and relax.
Remember your life’s priorities during the holidays.
And whenever things feel out of kilter, stop, slow down and return to #1.
Revisit each idea again to see how you can simplify and connect this holiday season!


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Holly Keich is the owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in Camp Hill.  She is a Licensed Social Worker, Yoga Instructor, Certified Infant Massage Instructor, Parent, Wife and adamant student in the school of life.

The Lightness of Being Organized

by Holly Keich   (originally published September 2011)

This past month, I’ve been trying to clear out dsc06821the mess contained in our basement to make way for a wonderful new useable, living space in our lives.  I was forced into cleaning by the heavy rains and subsequent flooding of our basement in this past April.  And finally I’ve scheduled the time and have started to get to work.  But every time I traverse into the depths of our basement, I wonder “Where do I start?”

Ironically, in the midst of clearing out magazine clippings that I’ve saved, I found an article on The Lightness of Being…Organized by Marilyn Paul. Paul is the author of It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys.  In an attempt to find a link to the article online, I stumbled across the FlyLady.  I’ve been told of her, even took steps to ‘like’ her on Facebook, but had yet to implement any of her suggestions to make my life flow easier.  Possibly both of these findings are signs that now was the time not only to revamp the basement, but to organize and supercharge my personal and spiritual growth as Paul’s article suggests.

Really, it could happen.  Don’t you feel more centered and focused in life after cleaning and organizing?  They say it’s in the mundane where spirit truly lies. By bringing awareness to the details of life and finding joy in them I’m certain I can bring sparks of holiness to my life and fill my every day tasks with bliss.

But the question still remains…”Where do I start?”  The obvious would be to work on the physical task of decluttering and purging, but clearing your mind must work synergistically with physical clearing.  Paul says, “Developing a spiritual practice can help you see with greater clarity the areas in your life that need cleaning up, literally and figuratively, and will help you accomplish the everyday organizing that we so often avoid: folding the laundry, washing the dishes, paying the bills.”  Here are some ideas taken from the article by Paul found in the March/April 2003 issue of Body&Soul about where to begin:

Meditation can help you to clear your mind and stop grasping for happiness through acquisition.  It can even help you cut back on the obligations in your life as you pare away what is necessary and what isn’t in your life.
Try this:  Your meditation does not need to be formal. When you have kids, it’s hard to find time for a formal meditation practice.  Instead, you can “sit” behind the wheel of your car when you are stuck in traffic, or pause at a coffee shop and close your eyes. Taking just a few moments to get lost between the thoughts typically governing your mind.

Mindfulness, bringing one’s attention to the present moment, to the direct, sensual, tactile engagement with your surroundings, rather than paying attention to the often negative chatter in the mind, can help you to get past the resistance of the mundane.  Making the bed, doing the dishes, picking up toys, scrubbing a burned pot can all be a way to directly engage with the world around us.
Try this:  Perform an ordinary everyday chore, maybe one that you typically dislike, with a quiet, attentive mind for just three minutes, as if this were the first time you ever performed this task.  Pay attention to your sensations – the feeling on your skin, what you see, the shapes and the sounds.  Notice your breathing. Observe the results. Consider incorporating this into your routine so you can do more of your daily tasks with a better attitude.

Sabbath, creating a time to deliberately do nothing on a weekly basis as a retreat from the everyday world of work, chores and obligations, gives you a time for renewing the soul.  Breaks are essential for your wellbeing and long-term productivity.  When you are refreshed, you can bring great insight and energy to bear on tasks and problems that seemed insurmountable just the day before.  For those of us who feel we are too busy for a Sabbath we can work towards it slowly by setting aside a few hours in the morning or evening to start and let go of the world of deeds.
Try this:  Pick some activities that are spiritually renewing for you. Perhaps you like to walk or meditate, Perhaps it’s time to play with the kids or to read.  Maybe you take out those watercolors that have been drying up in the closet. The important thing is to break your normal routine. This time will give you life if you give it life.

With a fresh mind, you can work towards purging and letting go of material objects that you may no longer need to possess.  Often we substitute things to obtain a spiritual connection with the world and once we’ve found that elsewhere we are better able to be free of possessions that are weighing us down.  You’ll have more ability to create your physical space with harmony and balance.  Finding a place for everything and putting (and keeping) everything in it’s place.  Clearing spaces allowing more spaciousness internally. Now, rather than engaging in a constant battle against the external disarray that is a reflection of your internal struggles we will be able to clean with ease.  And as we become more organized, we’ll find gaps in time that previously seemed chaotic and rushed.  Rather than filling those gaps with action, you can choose to use this time to deepen your soul-nourishing awareness.  Take that time to ask your soul what wants to emerge.  This creates sacred intervals throughout your day where you can tune into the abundant, rich qualities of life and truly enjoy each moment.


Holly Keich is a Licensed Social Worker, Yoga Instructor and the owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in Camp Hill, PA.

The Science of Love

by Holly Keich

Standing in line at the local craft shop, Valentine’s items strewn about the aisle, I choose to make an impulse purchase of a heart chalkboard. Two, one for each of my children.  Not for decoration, but in hopes of instilling kindness and love into their days by hanging them on their door and writing a daily message of gratitude for having them in my life.

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As I move towards bringing more love into my family’s life and the world around me, what better time to delve deeper to answer the question, “What inspires love?” than February, the month of LOVE.  Perhaps you’ve already heard of the “love hormone,” oxytocin.  It is said to be responsible for social bonding. When we hug or kiss a loved one our oxytocin levels increase. (1) Positive comments and positive conversations also spur the production of oxytocin. (2) But as with anything we give a quick glance on the surface, as I delve deeper there is much more to learn about this hormone.

Oxytocin was first recognized for it’s role in the birth process and breastfeeding and it’s particular importance in women. (3) The hormone, when released during labor, promotes contractions and also helps the uterus shrink back to shape after birth. It also increases the production of prostaglandins, which move labor along and increases the contractions even more. (4) The life-altering event of childbirth is a stressful experience, but with the release of oxytocin, not only is the labor moved along, but many women are able to experience the event with love and joy rather than a fight or flight response. (5) Additionally, this hormone has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may help modulate pain perception. (6)  Certainly a bonus when giving birth.

The true excitement about this hormone began in the 1990’s though when researchers discovered that breastfeeding women are calmer in the face of exercise and psychosocial stress than bottle-feeding mothers. (7) The reason for this is because when an infant suckles at the mother’s breast it stimulates a release of oxytocin which creates the “let down reflex” moving the milk to the breast for baby to consume. At the same time, oxytocin is released into the mother’s brain to stimulate further oxytocin production to enhance bonding with baby. Once the baby stops feeding, the production of the hormone stops until the next feeding. (8) A lack of sufficient oxytocin can prevent the milk letdown reflex and may be one of the reasons that make breastfeeding difficult for some women.

Further studies show that It’s even been found that the higher the levels of oxytocin in the first trimester, the more bonding behaviors we see after birth, such as singing or bathing baby. (9)  Interactions such as these (and many others) builds bonds between babies and the parent or caregiver as well and studies show that their oxytocin levels also increase. (10) This comes from the evolutionary process that has shown that pro-social behaviors are beneficial to survival.  According to Loretta Graziano Breuning of the Inner Mammal Institute, mammals have learned through the years that “leaving the herd can mean instant death in the jaws of a predator, so the brain rewards you with oxytocin when you have safety in numbers. The nice safe feeling is triggered by trust and touch: they go together in the state of nature because a critter close enough to touch you is close enough to hurt you. The brain makes careful decisions about when to trust instead of releasing oxytocin all the time.” (11)

While oxytocin is typically known for it’s purpose in birth and breastfeeding, there are many other triggers of this hormone such as warm temperature and touch, smells, sounds and other social cues. (12) Even more fascinating is that the release of oxytocin is not limited to just the pituitary gland, a pea-shaped structure at the base of the brain; it can be released from the uterus, ovaries, testes, blood vessels, and the heart. (13)  But what I find most fascinating is the oxytocin is released as part of the stress response.

Typically when we think of a stress response, we think of the hormone cortisol coursing through our bodies promoting a “fight or flight” response.  Cortisol is the body’s emergency response system.  It’s triggered when we face criticism, rejection or fear, when we feel marginalized or minimized and when we feel pain and the anticipation of pain. When present in birth it can slow down labor so you can take care of the actual or perceived threat.  In all these situations, it shuts down the thinking center of our brains and activates protective behaviors.

The release of oxytocin instead creates a “tend and befriend” response.  When oxytocin comes on board during times of high social stress or pain, it may “lead people to seek out more and better social contacts,” says social psychologist Shelley E. Taylor, PhD, who directs the University of California, Los Angeles, Social Neuroscience Lab. (14)  This hormonal response actually encourages people to seek out contact with others in times of stress.

As with all things, balance is key; too little adversity and too much adversity disrupts oxytocin balance, while experiencing just enough stress helps to maintain oxytocin balance. Often we think that our hormones rule us, but there are strategies that we can use to help re-wire the brain and maintain balance. Kelly McGonigal, PhD tells us in her book The Upside of Stress that “viewing a stressful situation as an opportunity to improve your skills, knowledge, or strengths makes it more likely that you will have a challenge response instead of a fight-or-flight response.  This, in turn, increases the chance that you will learn from the experience.” (15) In fact, it was her TED Talk the spurred my interest in the topic. If you haven’t already seen it, it’s worth 15 minutes of your time to watch it here.

Now we know we have the opportunity to grow just by our perception of stressful events.  What are some other ways that we can encourage hormonal balance and love in our life?

  1. Volunteering – especially if you are experiencing the same stress or subjected to the emotional trauma or disaster event.
  2. Journaling – even just 10 minutes where you reflect on your core values and motivation can change how you face stressful events.
  3. Assigning Meaning – giving your life events greater meaning through aspirational goals, reflection on core values that keep you connected to the greater purpose of life – realizing we’re all ONE.
  4. Self Care – Exercising, spiritual practice, reading, listening to music, spending time with family or friends, get a massage, walking, yoga, creative hobbies
  5. Strengthen Mindfulness – Being in the present moment protects you from anxiety and depression. Daily meditation for just 5 minutes a day can make an impact for a lifetime.
  6. Avoid Continuous Negative News – Watching or reading the news about stressful events is one of the largest triggers of stress. We also often watch the news alone which can exacerbate our stress response and deplete willpower.
  7. Avoid Dopamine Releasing Activities – Gambling, shopping, smoking, drinking, eating, playing video games, surfing the internet or binging on TV or movies for more than 2 hours.

Practicing these activities you can build new neural circuits through repetition.  For the most effect, perform the new behaviors or thought patterns for 45 days consistently. (16)  The more you practice these activities the more balanced and stress-free you will feel, the more in balance your oxytocin will be, and the more love you will feel in your life and be able to share those around you.

  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/oxytocin
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/conversational-intelligence/201612/chemistry-lessons
  3. http://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html
  4. http://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/what-do-hormones-do/oxytocin
  5. http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb08/oxytocin.aspx
  6. http://dralexrinehart.com/stress-benefits/how-to-increase-oxytocin/
  7. http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb08/oxytocin.aspx
  8. http://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/what-do-hormones-do/oxytocin
  9. http://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html
  10. http://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html
  11. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-neurochemical-self/201610/you-have-power-over-your-brain-chemistry
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15834840
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18655874
  14. http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb08/oxytocin.aspx
  15. http://dralexrinehart.com/stress-benefits/how-to-increase-oxytocin/
  16. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-neurochemical-self/201610/you-have-power-over-your-brain-chemistry

Holly Keich is a Licensed Social Worker and Owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in Camp Hill, PA.  For more info about her work, visit www.ombabycenter.com.