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Mindfully Working with an Angry Brain–Lindsay Leimbach


Do I have an angry brain? At times I sure do, I have a brain that will blow up like a volcano if it was not trapped in my skull. I do not have an angry brain all the time, just some of the time. It can happen when my teenage boys forget to do the chores, even though I left a note on the kitchen table. Or when someone tells me upsetting news and I do not have any control of the situation.  You know the irritating life stuff that we all face. Anger is a normal response of the brain when a situation appears threatening. It is a primary emotion that is well established at birth. Yes, it is actually a good thing. It is our internal radar that screams “life threatening situation! Be prepared to fight, defend, and concur”. It serves all animals well in protecting their lives, their families, and their territory. However, the issue is that this emotion is triggered over chores not being completed or situations we cannot control. I do not need the flight/ fight response to be activated to conquer my teenage children or in a situation I cannot change. Actually I have found that I make things worse when trying to solve an issue from an angry brain. I evaluate income information incorrectly, I cannot truly understand another point of view, I over react, and often say something off topic that just escalates the anger. I also have found that my angry brain is contagious. It seems that when I let it leak out others catch it and it multiplies. Then I don’t just have one angry brain but an epidemic of angry brains on my hands. The epidemic creates misery for everyone.  I have chosen to make sure that the epidemic of angry brains will not start with me. I know that anger is a normal emotion that I will continue to have. I am okay with this. Through mindful living I learned how to work with my angry brain instead of fighting it. I able to listen to the warning signs that my brain is telling me, and still not feeling like a need to fight and concur my family or the serves representative.

Mindful Living has made me aware that stuff happens, good stuff and bad stuff. Things are always happening. It is what life’s about, things change every moment. I realized that if I want to be an influence in my own life then I need to start living my life in the present moment. To notice what is happening in my own thinking moment by moment. I use to be frantic in my thinking. I was completely caught up in the past worry or future anxiety. I was not even aware that I was becoming angry until my volcano blew. Those around me were often as shocked I was to the amount of anger that now possessed me. I have learned through mindful awareness my feelings and thoughts that there are common cause that promote my anger: mostly when I am too tired, stressed, frustrated or overwhelmed. I have learned there are other common causes; physical or emotional trauma, chemical or biological issues with the brain, alcohol and drug abuse, and learned through families and cultures that promote anger.

I became aware that I have some well-established habits that I slide right into when I get angry. I am trained to a response just like Pavlov’s dog that starts to salivate when he hears the dinner bell. Example is when I feel my family is taking me for granted then the angry bell rings. I am not salivating, I am fuming. This negative reaction does nothing to make the situation better, and I never feel better. My fuming actually makes things way worse. I found that what you think about you bring about. As I felt angry and taken for granted, I am connecting neurons in my mind saying that I am angry person, no one cares, I am forgotten. The path ways become deeper in my thinking and reinforced. Then my brain looks for outside events that support these negative path ways.  I find myself on the poor me angry loop that I cannot jump off. The good news is that I have learned the brain has neuroplasticity. In short the brain is always changing, neural networks are building and reinforced with what you think about and other neural networks are falling apart when they are not being used. I realized I can be the master builder of my own brain!

Mindfulness has taught me that I can jump off the loop of past angry behaviors and responses anytime I choose through awareness in the present moment. It sounds easy. It is easy to say, but it takes practice, practice, practice to execute. Mindful living is actually not one skill, it is more a way of being. It takes lots of skills and techniques to live mindfully. These skills help you stay in the present moment without judgement.  Two Mindful Living tools that work for me when dealing with my angry brain are:

  1. Event Happens + Being Aware of Thinking +Skillful Response = Positive Outcome

Events happen so I am not surprised. Some of these events bring forth the emotion of anger. That is okay. I am listening to myself; I can sit with my anger. I know that feeling the angry won’t hurt me and in time I always calm down. I know that when I calm down I can clearly judge how angry I am. I often place it on a scale 1 to 10. This gives my brain some objectivity on how intensely I should react to the event. Now that I am calmer I am ready to make a skillful response. My response is what I want the world to know and hear. I might be doing a skillfully planned battle cry as a response or maybe I need skillfully to just let it go and know stuff happens. Whatever I choose, I know that I am reinforcing my outlook on the situation in my mind and in the mind of others. I will mindfully implement a skillful plan of action to achieve a positive outcome. I am ending any angry brain epidemics starting from me.

  1. Breathing 4x4x4:

When I am aware that anger is arising I breathe in for the count of 4, breathe out for the count of 4, and do this for 4 times. Breathing should not be a big surprise. We instinctually tell others that are upset “catch your breath, breath, breath, breath”. Breathing at a slower rate calms the body and the brain down. The brain is able to shift out of a flight/flight response and have better impulse control and planning ability. Being aware of what you’re thinking and feeling cannot happen if you feel your head is going to explode. Breathing slower and more deliberate will decrease your blood pressure and clear your tunnel vision.  With a calmer state of mind you can Event Happens + Being Aware of Thinking +Skillful Response = Positive Outcome.


To learn more about Healthy Mindful Living please visit





Jilla Redman is a breast cancer survivor, and has been a part of the Cancer Support Community since 2008. In addition to attending a weekly support group Jilla enjoys participating in yoga and guided imaginary classes. Jilla comes to CSC because of the ongoing support she receives.She is a strong believer of paying it forward. “I learn from the ladies in my group, we share our experiences and concerns. We are hope for each other. You don’t feel alone. For me it’s a second home. Cancer Support Community has really helped me”.

Friendly and engaging Jilla enjoys welcoming new participants to CSC. You will always find Jilla and her husband, Chuck laughing hysterically at Comedy Night. Jilla’s passion for gardening was demonstrated at a recent “Cups of Courage” event, where she decorated a bra with a floral theme. Her bra was featured in our Paint the Town Paint event at The Oaks. It’s not unusual to find Jilla with a watering can tending to the flowers and succulents around our building. She says this is her “small way” of giving back but here at CSC we want to acknowledge Jilla, and thank her in a “big way” for her spirit and generosity. She is truly an inspiration to all.



Maku Cuison is a Tai Chi master who has been teaching Tai Chi and Chigong for many years throughout the Conejo Valley and the San Fernando Valley. Big thanks to Maku, as we now offer two weekly classes at Cancer Support Community Valley Ventura Santa Barbara, Mondays, 11:45am to 12:45pm, and Wednesdays, 11:00am to 12:00pm.

Originally developed for self-defense, Tai chi has evolved into a graceful form of exercise that is now used for stress reduction and a variety of other health conditions. Often described as “meditation in motion,” Tai chi promotes serenity through gentle, flowing movements. Tai chi also helps increase flexibility and balance, and since Tai chi is low impact and puts minimal stress on muscles and joints, it is generally safe for all ages and fitness levels.

Maku’s Tai chi demonstrations and interview are available to browse on Youtube at makutaichi-youtube.


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My name is Steve Furnari and, like many of you, I am happy and proud to say I am a cancer survivor of 22 years! I was only 39 years old when I was first diagnosed in 1994. I was never really sick before that. I knew very little about cancer. My doctor told me I had Stage IV Malignant Melanoma. I was so naive then – I asked him what was Stage 5? He said, there is no Stage 5 – you are in a box in the ground – that’s Stage 5. I was devastated; I really did not know what to do. He told my wife I had 6 months to live, and to get our affairs in order.

My family was a great help, but at this point I knew I needed much more help. Living in Agoura Hills, I must have driven by Cancer Support Community 100 times, never knowing what it really was. Little did I know this would be by sanctuary for the next 10 years. My dear wife Karen first told me about the Cancer Support Community, as she had done some fundraising for them through the Rotary Club of Thousand Oaks. She said they had a lot to offer me. I said, okay, but how much is this going to cost me? It’s all free!

I came to Orientation and three days later I was in a participant group, and I would be in this awesome group for the next eight years. What a relief it was to be among these wonderful souls that were going through the exact same thing I was, had the same fears and questions. This was my tribe. Although we did not choose to be in this club, we were happy to be in it together.

The Internet had nothing for us back then, just some sad facts and bad statistics. But not us, we had great hope! We talked about everything and we learned from each other. Everyone knew something that someone else did not know. We discussed who were the best doctors, where the best hospitals were, the newest treatments and side effects, the most helpful clinical trials, how to deal with insurance companies, get prescriptions, exercise, yoga, meditation …. on and on. Most of it right here and for free, and if not, we knew where to go and how to get there. We finally realized the more tools we had in our arsenal, the more successful we would be.

I did well from 1994 to 1998. Then a PET scan revealed my cancer had spread to my lung. I had to have an entire lobe removed from my left lung. It was a brutal 8-hour surgery. I woke up in ICU with a collapsed lung and on a respirator. It was a very hard road back, but I made it. A month later I was back to work and back to my group here. Then one year later, the cancer had spread to the other lung. I could not believe I had to go through the same damn thing all over again. But I got so much support from my group – it was inspiring.

I must say I was very depressed after my second surgery – and then found out, three months later, I had another small mass in my lung. They said, No more surgery for you Steve. I would not be able to breathe on my own. So, I continued in a clinical trial at St. John’s in Santa Monica. There were over 100 Stage IV Melanoma patients involved in this trial and after 2 years, there were only 4 of us left. I asked my doctor, Donald Morton, Head of the John Wayne Cancer Institute, “Why me? Why am I doing so well”? I never forgot his answer, “Stephen, I don’t know what you are doing, but whatever it is, PLEASE keep doing it.” That’s when I knew that the Cancer Support Community was my secret weapon. In our sessions, our facilitator, Joyce, always said, “there is a lot of wisdom in this room”, and I must say there truly was. We would always end the session with a group hug. I loved that and I miss that. We were just ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and we rose to the occasion.

I came to realize we all shared a few common traits and this was my observation:

#1- A positive attitude (although this was difficult at times, it was always present).

#2 – A good sense of humor! My wife was present next door in the Friends and Family group and often asked “Why are you guys always laughing?”

#3 – A great sense of Gratitude! Every day was a gift and we treated it as so.

#4 – Some type of spirituality – Be it an organized religion, prayer, meditation, a higher power – something was present for all.

Last, but not least, a great team of doctors, caregivers, health care providers and of course, the Cancer Support Community. All of these together formed successes. It was the synergy of everything working together.

In closing, some of you might ask, “Did we lose some dear friends along the way?” We sure did, and that was the hardest part. It was very, very sad. But I truly believe everyone was happier that we’re on this journey together than alone. So you can all do me a big favor, and please stay well, my friends. Carry on and fight the good fight!

Thank you all so much – I wish you all the best – God Bless!

Grief Yoga – Moving into Empowerment

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Grief comes from a place of loss and separation from someone or something we cared about. When dealing with the pain of loss, it can drain our energy and change the rhythm in our life forever.  Sometimes we don’t know what to do to move forward as the grief can affect us mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Yoga can be a saving grace to help deal with grief and loss. The doing mind begins to soften into a place of being. Thoughts and feelings that were difficult to articulate begin to surface.  In grief, we can get stuck in the past or have fear and anxiety of the future. Yoga is a compassionate pathway to the present by observing the breath and the sensations within the body. As we become present within the body, our wounds of sadness, judgment, and abandonment can rise to the surface. When challenging things happen in our life, those events have the ability to shut us down or crack us wide open.

Grief Yoga creates a safe ritual to use that grief as fuel for healing. Grief Yoga creates an opportunity to release sadness and anger through you to connect us to the gift of life. It’s a blend of Hatha and Restorative Yoga, Vinyasa Flow, Kundalini Breath of Fire, Laughter Yoga and Dance to liberate us from our suffering.  People of all ages, body types, physical conditions, and mobility challenges, as well as those who have never tried yoga have benefited.

When taking a Grief Yoga class, here are three helpful tips I suggest to compassionately move through grief.

1) The Body Remembers  When we don’t express feelings fully, the body holds onto them. Surrender on your yoga mat any heartbreak or tears. Let go of what people think, allow feelings to flow. Go within and listen to your body. What is it telling you?  The body has a lot to say.

2) Observe your Mind   The pain of loss can wound you, but your thoughts may be amplifying your suffering.  Your thoughts shape your experience of loss, so positive thinking and kindness can help. Some affirmations may include “I am resilient and stronger than I think.” “I honor my loss by feeling my pain and recognize my healing.”  “I will live to the fullest of my potential.”

3) Spirit Speaks   Spirituality is about accepting love, no matter what’s going on.  As you feel, remember that you’re not alone in your sorrow.  Within your yoga mat, let go and open yourself up to a higher power. In order to heal, stop and listen to that divine intuitive wisdom.  Find the compassion to release all judgments and reconnect to the love.

When you stand up and get off the mat, start moving. Remember that you are still alive for a reason. Life is precious. What will you do today? Will you meditate? Will you share random acts of kindness?  Will you live a life that honors you and those who love one. That will be the true gift of grief.

Paul Denniston is a yoga teacher who has combined the ancient art of yoga in a new way to heal grief. Paul has studied under yoga masters Seane Corn and Gurmukh and has also studied extensively with grief expert David Kessler. He is certified in Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Flow, Kundalini Yoga, Laughter Yoga and currently teaches at Core Power Yoga in Los Angeles. Paul has taught Grief Yoga to therapists in the US, the UK and Australia. He loves bringing the healing benefits of Grief Yoga to Kripalu, Esalen, Bereavement Groups, Addiction Groups, Cancer Support Centers and those dealing with break ups and divorce. His DVD is called Moving into Empowerment.

Join us on Thursday, July 21st from 12:00-1:30pm for Paul’s powerful workshop. Please RSVP 805-379-4777, space is limited.









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