Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Yogi's Stance on Living and Dying with Dignity

On November 1st, 2014 Brittany Maynard chose to end her life, taking a lethal dose of barbiturates, prescribed to her by a physician.  Her death has sparked a debate over ones right to take their own life in the hopes of escaping pain and suffering.  

I have been a hospice nurse for over seventeen years and have witnessed many deaths and have had the great privilege of being present to individuals and their families at this most vulnerable time.  I have seen people die gracefully and I have seen people suffer greatly.  I have seen children, young mothers and grandparents die.  I have seen patients lose little by little any independence they may have once had.  I have seen choices regarding their care and options diminish as they lose function of their body and minds.  

This article is not an attempt to get you to see things my way or to use religion as a means to justify my stand, as many articles do today (shame on them!).   This article is an attempt to urge you to open your heart and experience human compassion and understanding.  To see both sides, if you will, in order to create space for understanding and communication.  This writing was sparked by the vaticans recent stance that Brittany Maynard's act of suicide was "reprehensible" and "a sin".  I am not a political person nor do I write about or discuss my religious beliefs, however, I feel betrayed by the spiritual leaders for their ignorant words.

Many people believe that something greater than us has placed us here and that only that being has the right to take us from this place.  If this is the case, we must also agree that that same being has given us the intelligence to create medicines and to prolong life with treatments developed through that intelligence.  

In looking at quality of life, we must see it as a gray area, as we all have different standards.  What do we think of the 90 year old man whose wife and friends have died before him and whose children no longer speak to him due to his alcoholism?  He may believe that he has great quality of life as he cares for and feeds his little dog...the only living being who truly cares for the man.  What of the elderly woman who has many friends and family surrounding her, but has lost control of her bowels and bladder and therefore feels her life is over and every day is torment as her family assists her with physical needs.  The young mother who suffers in pain, as she does not want to take the medicine to relieve it so that she can experience every moment she can with her small children and spouse.  The young child who bravely attends her last school play, knowing in her heart that she has little time to live.  I have witnessed these situations and can tell you it is not my right or yours to judge their quality of life.  It is not our right to project our judgement onto a situation we ourselves are not experiencing.  

If the elderly woman I referenced above gets so depressed that she loses her desire to eat, is she attempting suicide?  If the young mother decides to take morphine to soothe her pain and it inadvertently stops her it suicide?  If doctors and family members decide that the suffering is too great and decide to use palliative it assisted suicide as the breathing muscles relax and the heart stops?  In initiating CPR to an elderly person, who seemingly has no quality of life and severe illness, are we not manipulating the natural plan of the universe?

My point here is that we are always trying to control our health outcomes.  We have been given free will and the ability to make choices.  We can choose certain treatment and we can choose palliative care and hospice.  Only we can decide our experience of quality of life.  Until you have experienced those who are dying (and I do not mean a close relative or friend), you cannot think that you know better than the person experiencing death.

Many people appear to be suffering greatly at the end of life and it is not physical, it is spiritual.  I have seen people experience weeks of seemingly unexplained pain...A letting go of sorts only to have a few very peaceful days before they die.  Only they know what those last peaceful days mean.  What of the middle aged man who needs to apologize to his son in order to free them both?  Should he choose to die before having that opportunity there is great loss in that relationship and the lives around them.

All of us experience pain and suffering, whether living or dying.  As individuals we can choose how we integrate that pain and suffering into our lives.   In choosing to see all individuals as part of a whole, we need to look at this issue in an honest, compassionate way that elicits a voice of reason, not a voice of judgement.   Because of my experiences as a hospice nurse, a mother, a yogi and a human being, I cannot easily place judgement on another for a decision they make through their personal experience.  When looking at these very serious life issues, we must have open hearts and minds in order to fully embrace understanding of these unique life and death issues.

Suzanne Nicklas, RN, E-RYT, HHC, is owner of Pink Lotus Wellness, is a Registered Nurse, Registered Yoga Teacher and Holistic Health Coach and wellness blogger.  She holds workshops on wellness and stress management and also offers corporate classes and workshops.  You may contact her at or visit

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Benefits of Breastfeeding


There are millions of articles out there on the benefits of breastfeeding.  The reason for this is that it truly is the most wonderful and rewarding way to feed your baby.  Are there circumstances where a mom is unable to...yes.  As moms, we should respect and honor the choices we make and embrace our differences.  I hold true to a non judgemental and accepting view of all moms, as there is no harder job than that of a mom.

That being said, I am passionate about the choice to breastfeed and want to share with you my top 5 reasons for choosing to breastfeed my own children.  It has been years since I have breastfed my children, but I can say that it was the most beautiful experience I have had as a mom (excluding their births, of course).  Here goes:

1. Bonding between mother and baby:  Breastfeeding stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone, which can enhance bonding between mom and baby.

2.  Immune protection:  Baby is protected due to the immunological properties in breastmilk.

3.  Mom recovers quicker:  Breastfeeding promotes the release of oxytocin, which in turn promotes uterine contractions helping mom to recover more quickly from birth. Breastfeeding also delays the return of menstruation.

4.  Expense:  Lets face it, it is cheaper to feed from the breast than to spend oodles of money on formula.

5. Baby's emotional needs are satisfied:  Breastfeeding is a time for mom and baby to spend cuddling. Spending this time skin to skin helps babies feel nurtured and satisfied.  Studies show that premature babies, whether breastfed or not, that are held skin to skin, have increased survival rates.

One additional reason to breastfeed is the convenience of it.  The food is always available and always at the right temperature.  A crying baby does not want to wait until the formula is mixed and brought to the right temperature.  You can also breastfeed anywhere.

Whether you are a stay at home mom or are planning to return to work, it is very convenient.  Most companies allow time and a suitable space for the breastfeeding mom to pump or nurse her baby.  Breast pumps are awesome these days, so most women can pump breastmilk in a very short period of time.

For a different (very funny, but true) take on breastfeeding, take a look at "Scary Mommy" blog, entitled 10 (Mildly Shallow) Reasons to Breastfeed.  For those who have challenges with breastfeeding, there are many supports available.  A quick internet search can bring you to the local support that you need.  Your local La Leche League is a great place to start.

Yours in Health,  Suzanne
Top:  three of my breastfed babies, and Below:  My now 9 year old, who very much dislikes getting his picture taken..  

Suzanne Nicklas, RN, E-RYT, HHC,is a Registered Nurse, Registered Yoga Teacher and Holistic Health Coach.  She holds workshops on wellness and stress management and also offers corporate classes and workshops.  Suzanne is also a Lactation Consultant and Doula.  You may contact her at or through Pink Lotus Wellness, at or through


Friday, August 16, 2013

Falling Off The Wagon

My family recently moved and I feel as though my whole life changed (because it did).  I went from a vegetarian who only drank green smoothies and juices before noon to a person who eats bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches for breakfast.   I went from someone who has had a daily yoga and meditation practice to someone who hasn't done any physical activity for weeks.   I went from someone who read inspirational daily quotes and worked at inspiring others to enhance their health, to someone who can't "fix" my own life.

As a health coach and yoga teacher I tend to put more pressure on myself to do the "healthy" things that are expected of me.    I sometimes forget that my health and wellness can come only from my own desire to be healthy... not from some outside expectation.   We are all vulnerable to the same societal pressures and we oftentimes place more emphasis on that than on our own needs or perceptions of our health.   Sometimes it's good to fall off the wagon.   It gives us time to step back and reevaluate what is important to us.

My hiatus from yoga and everything I deemed "healthy" has given me more insight into whats important to me and to look at who I am serving by buying into societal expectations of what a health coach should be eating or how buff a yoga teacher should look.  I have been given the opportunity to recommit to my own journey in life.  The incentive to begin on the wellness path (or any path) has to come from your heart... Losing weight and/or sticking to a health regime has nothing to do with your commitment level or your willpower, it has everything to do with your heart.

Making healthy transformations comes from an emotional place.   A place of listening to our bodies and heart and minimizing our attention to the mind.   Coming from the heart we are able to make changes in a compassionate and loving way.   The minute the mind is in charge we begin to judge and  become unloving, moving us farther from our hearts and our true nature.

My hiatus has been a gift and has allowed me to renew my commitment to my healthy lifestyle.   I have begun listening to my heart more and am better able to choose the things that serve me on my wellness/life path.  Whether you are beginning on the path of wellness or have fallen off the wagon, know that you are not alone and simply see it as an opportunity to engage with your heart.   Resist the overwhelming challenge of making multiple changes and begin with just one simple change.   Once that is mastered, add another.   Taking one step at a time not only works with health transformations, but with any lifestyle change.

As a health coach, I have been asked many times if there is a "magic pill" that can fix __________ (fill in the blank).  There is no magic pill, just a commitment to our hearts and our path.  Not a sexy, exciting answer, I know, but it is the truth.  So, listen to your heart today and make one simple change that serves you.  You will be surprised by the snowball effect it can have on your life.

(By the way... when you fall off the wagon, which you may, by all means just get back up and let go of the berating, negative self talk and move forward, leading with your heart).

Suzanne Nicklas, RN, E-RYT, HHC, is founder of Shanti Yoga Studio in Troy, NY and is a Registered Nurse, Registered Yoga Teacher and Holistic Health Coach.  She holds workshops on wellness and stress management and also offers corporate classes and workshops.  You may contact her at or through Pink Lotus Wellness, at

Thursday, June 20, 2013

When Things Don't Go Your Way

How do you deal with disappointment?  There are certainly varying levels of disappointment and many approaches to dealing with it.

Most recently, I have experienced disappointment in a friend, disappointment in some of my dreams not coming to fruition and disappointment in my health.  What's a girl to do at a time like this?

First of all, lets put it all in perspective, after all, life is all about balance, right?   Taken individually each of these disappointments is quite manageable.  Taken together, however, the cumulative effect can make life feel a bit overwhelming.   I believe that our attitude in dealing with the small stuff plays an important role in how we deal with the big stuff or the cumulative stuff.

Sure, we may all want to hide under the covers at times and we may want to feel sorry for ourselves.  Both of these scenarios serves a purpose.  But how long can you stay under the covers and how long can you truly feel sorry for yourself without saying "enough already".   My tolerance threshold for this is very slim before I say, "pick yourself up and return to life".  So, what do I do?  

I have created rituals in my life so that I am better able to manage the disappointments of life.  I wake in the morning and immediately acknowledge all that I am grateful for.  I choose to view life from a place of abundance instead of a place of deprivation.  I choose to return to trust at times when my faith is lacking.  I choose to see everyone as human and on our own journeys so as not to place unrealistic expectations on others or myself.   I choose love.

As you can see, it's all about choice.  I can choose to feel disappointed in a friend who has hurt me or I can feel compassion for her as she is on her own journey.   I can feel disappointment in myself for the fear that may be holding me back from fulfilling a dream or I can hold my heart in a sacred place and nurture confidence in myself.   I can berate myself for the injury that I incurred from pushing too hard or I can see it as a message and a gift to slow down in life.   Our circumstances are not always our choice, but the way we handle them is.

The next time you experience something that doesn't go your way (and you will), make a game out of it and challenge yourself to see the lesson in it.  Come from a place of love in your reaction to it.  See other people in their humanness, as you are living life in yours... making mistakes and learning and "doing the best we all can".  And, if you need to hide under the covers for a bit, go ahead.  So long as when you come out you choose to feel gratitude for the light.

Suzanne Nicklas, RN, E-RYT, HHC, is founder of Shanti Yoga Studio in Troy, NY and is a Registered Nurse, Registered Yoga Teacher and Holistic Health Coach.  She holds workshops on wellness and stress management and also offers corporate classes and workshops.  You may contact her at or through Pink Lotus Wellness, at

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Are you Afraid of Yoga?

You enter the studio to find a sweet person greeting you.  She has long hair in pig tails and is dressed in multiple layers of multiple colored clothing.  You are greeted with namaste (you think she is saying "have a nice day", so you murmur something to that effect back at her).  She introduces herself as the teacher and asks you to find a space in the classroom and settle in.  You enter the room to find many very fit looking individuals who are sitting in meditation and appear to be zoned in on another planet.  You roll out your mat at the very back of the room and sit as quietly as you can, knowing that any noise you make will bring unwanted attention to the "new" person.

The teacher enters the room and sits quietly in front.  She explains what the class will hold and then asks you to place your hands at your heart and as a group you chant "om".  You obediently follow what seems to be very cult like behavior.  You all sit for a brief meditation (brief  = an eternity at this point).  From there the movement begins.  The teacher begins to rattle off words ending in "asana", which have absolutely no meaning to you.  You look around the room and feel panic as you attempt to follow all of the other students.

About midway through your first yoga class, you begin to have a feeling that you have not experienced before...  energized, yet calm.  You take a look at the the other students, who are not as "fit" and "perfect" as you had originally imagined.  They are "normal" just as you are.  The teacher moves through the room and assists you and you see the compassion in her eyes and instantly begin to trust this person, finding her quirkiness endearing.

After a period of lying on your back and soaking in all of the movement, the class comes to an end and everyone again chants "om".  There is a connection that you feel at this moment with the entire classroom.   The teacher ends with "namaste" and explains what this means:  "I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells; I honor the place in you which is of love of truth, of light and of peace.  When you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, we are one."

You leave the studio feeling as light as a feather, a feeling that you are not used to. You get home and immediately go online to see when you can schedule your next yoga class... you're hooked.

NOTE:  There are many yoga classes out there.  Find the teacher and the class that feels right to you.  There are also many styles of yoga, so be sure to do some investigating.    Sanskrit is a written language and the words are sometimes used in yoga classes, but not always.  Be certain to make a teacher aware that this is your first class.  Pick classes suitable to your experience and don't be afraid to ask questions.

In Gratitude,    Suzanne

Peace in your community; peace in your home and peace in your heart.

Suzanne Nicklas, RN, E-RYT, HHC, is owner of Shanti Yoga Studio in Troy, NY and is a Registered Nurse, Registered Yoga Teacher and Holistic Health Coach.  She holds workshops on wellness and stress management and also offers corporate classes and workshops.  You may contact her at or visit or for Health Coaching through Pink Lotus Wellness, visit

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Yoga Class Etiquette

So, you're attending your first yoga class or have been going for awhile and are just not sure of the "norms" of a class.  Today we will learn about what to do and what not to do while attending a yoga class.  Of course, teachers and other students remember what if feels like to be new, so don't fret if you have done any of the below "no-no's.  This list is not meant to dissuade you with "rules", rather to help you to feel comfortable when trying out a new class.

While talking quietly before and after a class are perfectly acceptable, be sure not to interfere with students who are attempting to center themselves prior to their practice.  Even though it may seem unworthy of mention, the use of cell phones during class (either calls or texting) is not appreciated by the class or teacher.  Cell phones should be quieted and if you must have them, put them on vibrate while the class is going on.

The use of colognes and perfumes can sometimes interfere with a class, as some students may have allergies and it may affect the air quality in the room and the breathing of students.  Keep lotions, oils and other "smelly stuff" out of the studio.

Most studios have mats for rent or to borrow.  I always suggest to students who have not yet purchased a mat to come and try out a class.   If they believe they will continue to come to class, then purchase a mat.  Mats can cost anywhere from $15.00 to $150.00.   If you are new to yoga, I suggest purchasing a good sticky surfaced mat that is suitable for carrying to classes.  Any target or Wal Mart mat will do for beginners.  Of course, if you are borrowing a studio mat, be sure to clean the mat with supplied cleaners at the studio.  Being  the clean freak that I am, I would also suggest cleaning a mat before use as well, as some students may not be as conscientious as you are about cleaning.  Also, when moving about the yoga room, try not to step on other people's mats.   It is similar to "getting in other people's space".

Although it is fine to take a break during class to regroup or to slow your practice down from the rest of the class, if needed, it is not acceptable to do your own practice while the teacher is teaching.  It is thought to be disrespectful to the teacher and distracting to the students.

Now you are all ready for your class... but what do you wear?  Any loose fitting clothing is appropriate.  However, if you are wearing loose fitting shorts beware that your "girl" or "boy" parts may show to the rest of the class in some postures if they are not form fitting enough.  Yoga students practice bare foot as this helps with the connection to the mat and helps them to feel grounded and supported by the floor beneath them.  I have taught many classes with students who are sensitive about being bare foot.  I am always concerned for their safety, as it is easy to slip on a mat without the skin/mat connection.

One last recommendation, try to come to class 15 minutes prior to the start of class.  Take a few minutes to stretch, breathe and prepare for the class mentally.  It will benefit your practice if you are not rushing prior to the class.  Typically the end of a class is spent lying on your mat in a relaxation pose.  It is distracting for students to leave during this time, so plan your time accordingly.

Yoga classes are extremely beneficial and the information I shared with you today comes from questions I have been asked by students.  I love to teach yoga and I love to see new students come through the door.  I also want students to feel comfortable and confident in a class.  Always be sure to ask your yoga teacher if you have any questions about a class.  Also, feel free to leave a comment below and I will answer your questions here.

In Gratitude,    Suzanne

Peace in your community; peace in your home and peace in your heart.

Suzanne Nicklas, RN, E-RYT, HHC, is owner of Shanti Yoga Studio in Troy, NY and is a Registered Nurse, Registered Yoga Teacher and Holistic Health Coach.  She holds workshops on wellness and stress management and also offers corporate classes and workshops.  You may contact her at or visit or for Health Coaching through Pink Lotus Wellness, visit

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Blending and Juicing

I am often asked which is best in the morning... juices or smoothies.

My answer: they're both amazing for different reasons.

Juicing is great as it kicks in right away and provides lots of energy.  It is very hydrating and gives me what I need to have a great workout in the morning.   Juicing extracts the liquid from fruits and veggies and removes the fibrous part.  Blending smoothies are also a great option as they help you to feel fuller longer and they require a bit more work for your body to digest.   Smoothies are also easier and quicker to make.  I am going to share my two favorite morning treats with you:

Goddess Smoothie

1 avocado (peeled and cored)
1 banana
1 cup of strawberries
1 cucumber (peeled)
Fistful of kale
Coconut water (1/2 -1 cup)
Optional:  Agave to taste

Blend all ingredients in a blender and drink up!    (makes 2 servings)

Anytime Juice

2 carrots
2 celery stalks
Handful of strawberries
Handful of kale
1 orange (peeled)

Place all ingredients through a juicer and enjoy!

Juices and smoothies are a great way to start your day as they start you off with a healthy mindset that snowballs throughout your day.   If you have a favorite recipe, be sure to share it in the comments below.  I am always looking for new things to try!

In Gratitude,    Suzanne

Peace in your community; peace in your home and peace in your heart.

Suzanne Nicklas, RN, E-RYT, HHC, is owner of Shanti Yoga Studio in Troy, NY and is a Registered Nurse, Registered Yoga Teacher and Holistic Health Coach.  She holds workshops on wellness and stress management and also offers corporate classes and workshops.  You may contact her at or visit or for Health Coaching through Pink Lotus Wellness, visit