Life Writing no. 1 – Photographs as Prompts

Do you have stories you want to tell? Studies have shown that life writing can help to lessen symptoms of stress and depression. In our new blog series, look for exercises and prompts to help facilitate your own life writing.

Photographs make prompt powerful memories. 

Photographs document the most important moments of our lives. We snap a picture when our friends blow out the candles, our nieces walk down and the aisle, or when our kids receive their high school diploma.


As they document our rites of passage, photographs evoke strong emotions that make them useful prompts for a life writing practice.

13853629823_7f64b032ea_zWhen looking at your photographs and family albums, consider the following questions to inspire your life writing:

  1. How do you feel when you see the photograph? Sad, happy, nostalgic?
  2. Who were the people in the photograph and what were they like at this age?
  3. Is there a story that goes along with this photograph?
  4. Was the time of taking the photograph a pivotal time in history?
  5. What details can you notice? Do you have anything to say about the fashion, setting, or era of the photograph?

Once you feel the spark, put your pen to paper and write.  Keep your hand moving across the page so that you don’t give yourself the time to edit or judge the quality of your ideas. The point of the exercise is to express the feelings associated with your life experience as the memories rise to the surface with the photograph prompt.

Happy writing!



Mindful Monday no. 23 – Affirmations

5229877640_1a5e2ffbba_bI was gifted a book recently, The Untethered Soul, by Michael A. Singer from a friend. In one chapter, he compared the dialogue in our heads to the dialogue you have with a roommate–with one notable distinction; most of the negative, criticizing talk that we say to ourselves, he said, are things that we would never say to a roommate.

So why do we allow our “inner roommate” to do it? 

While negative thoughts are inevitably going to happen, we can make a practice of positive thinking. This brings me to our Mindful Monday post. This week’s focus is all about positive self-talk. In other words, I encourage you to write and say one affirmation about yourself this week as a trial practice.

Here’s how to start: 

  1. Make a few notes about the things that you have been giving yourself a hard time about lately. Pay close attention to the shoulds, woulds and coulds.
  2. Pick one of these self-criticisms that really resonate or include them all in one affirmation.
  3. Write the opposite more positive statement of these self-criticisms beginning with the words “I am…”
  4. Copy it in your notebook or say it out loud 20 times to shake off those initial negative thoughts about the exercise.
  5. When you encounter the negative thought which inspired the exercise, take a deep breath noticing the thought come and go. Then, say your affirmation aloud a couple of times to be mindful of the words.
  6. Do your best to state the affirmation 3 times a day, letting go of perfectionism if you miss one.


Here are some examples of affirmations: 

I let go of perfectionism because I always do the best I can. 

I am present to receive all of the day’s gifts. 

I trust myself to make the best decisions. I know what is needed. 

Some find it helpful to write their affirmations on post-it notes and stick them on their bathroom mirror or refrigerator. These areas remind you to say your affirmations. However you manage it, find ways to slip this practice in to your life this week.

Have you worked with affirmations before? Let us know in the comment section above.



Mental wellness

What is living with a chronic illness like?

I have lived with Clinical Depression most of my adult life, since I gave birth to my first child 44 years ago.
For many years I observed how it sucked the life and joy out of me. I took a cocktail of medications as prescribed by doctors and specialists. As a result, I dealt with different side effects. So over the years, I learned to self-manage this condition.

Rule No. 1: The main factor to survive when dealing with a chronic illness is treating yourself with love!

It was hard to love myself as I saw how I struggled to get simple things done. It was hard to be self-confident as I started many things that I could never finish, due to lack of motivation and concentration. But when I accepted the challenges and looked at them as self-improvement projects instead of obstacles, the self-blame and self-loathing started to diminish. So as a rule, I try to look into my eyes as often as possible, Saying I love you, I know what you have been through, you are strong, you can do this!

Rule No. 2. Taking Personal Responsibility for your wellbeing

So after this very important factor of Loving Yourself we get to the next self-management rule which is education.

When I started learning about Depression I was told that mine is genetic, as my father also lived with it all his life. Knowing this made me very sad. When you are told something is genetic, it is like saying you have it and you can`t do anything about it. It means that the illness rules your life. But I was NOT the type to accept that I am not in charge of my life.

As a result I started by educating myself. I learned about: What is this illness and what are the contributing factors; how can I help myself.

I took a course about mental illness and how to self-manage it. Later I became a mental health facilitator teaching a course on managing Depression, that led me to take a counseling course. I wanted to know more about how the mind works and how it effects our behavior. In fact I wanted to become my own counselor!

This is what I learnt and this is what I try to practice every day. I say I try because it is not always easy!


Tips to stop feeling sorry for yourself:

Yes, it is possible to feel sorry for yourself when you have a chronic illness, sucking the joy out of your life. You might try to blame other factors for your suffering.
As for me, I used to blame my father and the genes that caused me to be depressed for so many years. But I realized feeling like a victim doesn`t help me. It just gives more power to something that is outside out of you, and the result is helplessness. I didn`t want to feel this way.

So every day I wake up and say to myself: “ I focus on today and how to make the best out of it. Just today. `

I started noticing that due to lack of motivation- and without a plan, I tend to spend the day either in bed or in front of the TV. So I decided to make a plan to do the best I can.

Click on this link to learn about WRAP, the Wellness Recovery Action Plan :

Rule no. 3: Daily Maintenance

My Daily Plan: This is a list of what helps me to become more active and make me feel better. Every day, I write my daily plan with specific time for how long each activity takes. I try to pace myself as I know planning too much overwhelms me and causes stress- and I don`t want that. I remind myself that I am not competing with anyone. I just want to enjoy this day to the best of my ability.

I learned that doing an exercise first thing in the morning boosts my energy. I usually go for a walk around the block. If it is too cold I go for a swim, or follow some Yoga stretches on YouTube.

I also learned that I have to do this on my own, because if I rely on friends or others for doing it, it won`t happen regularly.

I even write regular house chores on my list like washing the dishes, vacuuming, or any important appointments; even watering my plants!
Having a Daily Plan puts me in charge and makes me feel competent and more confident.
These are a few things that help me and make life easier for me. There is a long list and I will write about it in my next blog post.



Mindful Monday no. 22 – Morning Rituals


This is a wonderful day, I have never seen this one before.” -Maya Angelou

How many times have you rushed through your morning wishing for more you-time?

I used to do this quite often, opting for the snooze button over my own self-care. What I found was I was more frazzled, panicked and forgetful as I rushed out the door each morning with no time to spare.

Lately, I’ve been changing my morning routine and waking up 20 minutes early for some me-time. Instead of stopping by the local coffee shop to get my tall dark, I’ve started to reserve some time to brew my own cup of coffee at home. I allow some time to enjoy my  first cup without any distractions and without multitasking. I just sip and relax.

It has become my morning ritual. 


As I was indulging in this moment for myself, I became more mindful of this ritual. I tuned in to…

…the smell of the coffee grinds as I scooped them in my French press.

…the swirls of steam as I poured the boiling water over top of the grinds.

…the warmth of the cup as I cupped it in my hands.

…the richness of flavour as I took my first sip.

I invite you to enjoy your first cup of coffee or tea tomorrow morning. Develop a ritual of mindfulness first thing in the morning and protect your you-time. You’ll notice it will carry you through the day. If you need to find the time in the morning, consider making your breakfast ahead (try our recipe for slow cooker breakfast quinoa!) or prepping your clothes the night before.


Do you have any morning rituals that get your day started off right? Let us know in the comments section.

Foodie Friday: Black Bean & Yam Salad



Did you hear? It’s the international year of pulses! The UN declared this news to celebrate the nutritional impact of lentils, chickpeas, beans, and other pulses in feeding the world’s population. If you are already on board with Meatless Monday, you might already be a fan of filling up on black beans. Black beans are high in fiber and a good protein alternative to meat.

Here is my favourite black bean recipe:

Black Bean & Roasted Yam Salad


  • 1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed.
  • 3-4 yams, peeled and chopped into small cubes.
  • 2 cups of cooked corn.
  • 1-2 tomatoes, chopped.
  • 1 red pepper, chopped.
  • 1 avocado, cut in small cubes.
  • 1 red onion, diced.
  • Small handful of cilantro leaves.
  • Cumin for flavour.
  • Olive oil or coconut oil.
  • 1 wedge of lime.


  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place chopped yams on a baking sheet and drizzle your choice of oil over top. Sprinkle the yam with cumin, salt and pepper for flavour.
  3. Roast until slightly crispy on one side then flip so the other side will cook. Once cooked, set aside the roasted yams to cool.
  4. In a bowl, combine the black beans, corn, tomato, pepper, onion, and cilantro leaves and stir together.
  5. Add the cooled yams to the salad and mix gently while squeezing the wedge of lime.
  6. Serve and enjoy!

Do you like to cook with black beans or other pulses? Let us know your favourite recipes in the comments.


Resources for Anxiety : Print and Online

Did you know that 1 in 10 people suffer from anxiety? And that 1 in 4 will experience significant problems with anxiety at some point in their lives? Also, that 7% of seniors suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

There is help out there, much of it free. For example:
The Anxiety disorders toolkit is available free at:  or for help with flying phobia, try:

If you prefer reading print material, try: ‘Worry’ by Edward Hallowell (Ballantine Books, 2002) ‘The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook’ by Edmund J. Bourne (New Harbinger, 2000).

journalling pic

As it happens, bibliotherapy is great for anxiety. So happy reading!
Calm Pond

Mindful Monday no. 22 – Square Breathing Exercise


A healthy mind has an easy breath. -Author Unknown

In our busy lives, it is hard to take a moment to catch your breath. Our lives are often over- scheduled and despite our best intentions, it can be hard to fit in time for self-care. Breathing exercises are quick and easy ways to relieve our building stress.

Square breathing, also known as box breathing or four-square breathing, is a technique to control the breath and become more mindful. I’ve done this breathing exercise while waiting at the doctor’s office, while in the grocery store line-up, and even on my morning commute.

How to do the Square Breathing Exercise: 

  1. Sit with both your feet firmly on the ground and your back straight.
  2. Breathe in through your nose for four counts.
  3. Hold your breath for four counts so the air fills your lungs.
  4. Exhale for four counts until your lungs are empty.
  5. Hold your breath for more four counts.
  6. Repeat 2-3 times at minimum.

You can visualize the four sides of a square as you complete the exercise. While you could just take a few deep breaths, I find the counting in conjunction with the breathing exercise allows me to become focused on the present moment. I hope you add this breathing exercise to your arsenal of techniques. If you want a few other breathing exercise ideas, check out this list.

What success have you had with this breathing exercise?


Ways to celebrate Nowruz

For a few reasons, I am excited about celebrating NowRuz this March. Some Persian friends and colleagues in my life have shared the richness of their cultural traditions with me, such as: the appreciation of sharing home-cooked meals together; the value of socializing with people whom you can laugh with; and a hearty respect for poetry as a valuable form of expression. When I attend the Fire dance festival in West Vancouver next week, I imagine there will be a few different art forms to kick off the NowRuz spirit.
Even if these traditions are new to you, why not join an event and enjoy a bit of cultural fun?  There is a NowRuz festival on March 13th at Capilano Mall in #North Vancouver, for all members of the public.
One spring, a friend patiently explained to me the meaning behind each Haftseen symbol (thank you Fariba!) Haftseen is a decorative display that stands for 7 important symbols in Persian culture.


The main items are: 1.Somagh (sumac) : symbolizes the color of sunrise 2. Serkeh (vinegar): symbolizes age and patience 3. Senjed (dried fruit from lotus tree): symbolizes love 4. Samanoo (sweet pudding): symbolizes affluence 5. Sabzeh (sprouts): symbolizes rebirth 6. Sib (apple): symbolizes health and beauty 7. Sir (garlic): symbolizes medicine

Additional items that begin with the letter “s” that are commonly seen on the Sofreh are: Sekkeh (coin): symbolizes wealth and prosperity Sonbol (hyacinth): a spring spring flower

Other items included are: Mahi (fish): symbolizes life Tokhmeh Morgh (egg): symbolizes fertility Sham (candle): symbolizes enlightenment Shirini (sweets): symbolizes spreading the sweetness A book of poetry or prayer



For many, NowRuz is a way to mark the transition from winter into spring, a time when fresh life is abounding and there is a sense of hopefulness in the air.

How do you like to mark the beginning of spring?



Mindful Monday no. 21 – Walk in Nature

This WayLive in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” -Henry David Thoreau, from “Walden”

Urban life is filled with many distractions: loud noises, busy traffic, and a constant cluttering of billboards and signage. We often don’t realize that the environment we live in adds to our stress. One of the best ways to reset from a stressful experience is to escape to one of the North Shore trails for a mindful meandering through the forest trails.

Studies have shown that walking in nature counteracts the effects of stress and anxiety in ways that cannot be reproduced in the urban environment. In fact, in one study, researchers linked the outdoor activity with a reduction in the negative thinking and rumination that accompanies depression and anxiety.


At the foot of a trail, transition to a more mindful state by tuning in to your senses:

  • Do you hear birds chirping or leaves rustling?
  • Do you feel a breeze or the heat of the sub?
  • Can you spot any wildlife or flowers?
  • Do you smell the scent of pine or cedar?

We are fortunate to have easy access to nature through the many North Shore trails and parks. Before setting off, make sure you have appropriate footwear. Wear layers and bring along a bottle of water to keep hydrated. Finally, let someone know where you are going and when you intend to return home for safety purposes.

Here are some North Shore trails to check out: 

  1. Lighthouse Park, Easy, up to 2 hours
  2. Capilano Pacific Trail, Easy, up to 4 hours
  3. Whytecliff Park, Easy, up to 1.5 hours
  4. Lynn Loop, Easy, up to 1.5 hours
  5. Rice Lake, Easy, up to 1 hour

Where is your favourite place on the North Shore to escape into nature?




Foodie Friday: Infused Water

Pouring Water by Matthias

This spring, I’ll be keeping a refreshing pitcher of infused water in the refrigerator to keep hydrated. Berries, citrus fruits, and herbs transform filtered water into a delightful drink that will substitute any sugary lemonade or ice tea when the weather heats up.

If you are someone who struggles to drink the recommended daily intake of water, these naturally-flavoured waters are a great way to encourage you to take care of yourself. Plus, there are endless combination of fruit and herbs to keep inspired.

Here are some of my favourite combinations:


Strawberry, Lemon, Basil 

  1. Chop 4-6 strawberries into quarters.
  2. Thinly slice half of a lemon.
  3. Small handful of scrunched basil leaves
  4. Add the strawberries, lemon and basil to a pitcher with ice and filtered water and give it a swirl with a wooden spoon.


Citrus and Cilantro

  1. Thinly slice a half of each of the following citrus fruits: lime, lemon, orange, and grapefruit.
  2. Pick off a small handful of cilantro leaves from their stems.
  3. Add the fruit and cilantro to a pitcher with ice and filtered water and stir with a wooden spoon.


Pineapple, Cucumber and Mint 

  1. Chop a quarter of a fresh pineapple into small pieces.
  2. Thinly slice a cucumber.
  3. Pick a small handful of washed mint leaves, muddling them in your grasp.
  4. Add pineapple, cucumber and mint to your pitcher with a couple scoops of ice and filtered water.
  5. Mix the content with a wooden spoon.

Let your concoction chill in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours to properly infuse. While some citrus fruits infuse quickly, herbs may take longer to steep in the water. Once you get a taste of the flavour of infused water, experiment with different concoctions. Or, find more infused water recipe ideas here

Do you have a favourite infused water combination?