Ellie Holbrook, MA, LPC, RYT200 is…
…A Licensed Professional Counselor: Ellie counsels women, men, adolescents, and professionals from all walks of life. She is committed to the well-being of her clients and dedicated to helping them meet their unique individual life and wellness goals as they optimize their personal satisfaction in life. As a coach, Ellie specializes in the art of positive living.
…A Registered Yoga Teacher: Ellie is a certified yoga instructor, registered with the Yoga Alliance at the 200 hour level. She is currently teaching at the Yoga Loft in Willmar, MN.
…A DONA-trained birth doula: Ellie is a DONA-trained birth doula. She is enthusiastic about childbirth, and passionate about supporting expecting women and their families.
April 9th, 2014
“Practice and all is coming.” –K. Pattabhi Jois
In the yogic world, we refer to the act of “doing yoga” as a practice. And it is called a practice for good reason.
For in practice, we recognize that we will never reach perfection. We may become masterful at what we will do, but because we are continuously deepening our practice, we will never master it entirely. Likewise, there will always be something about our practice that is a challenge. For example, while we may have great physical strength, we may struggle with flexibility. Or we may be strong in our poses, but struggle to quiet our minds.
We also call it a practice because in practice, we are not in competition with anyone, including ourselves. There is no final score or an outcome to strive for or attach to. There are no winners, no losers, none that are “better” or “worse” at yoga than others. . Sure, there may be some that more advanced practitioners than others, but this is only because they have been doing the practice longer than those that have just begun. So in practice, we do not focus on being best. Rather, we focus on doing our best, every time we come to our mat.
When practicing yoga, we must also bear in mind that each and every practice will be different for every single person. Some days we will feel strong and execute the poses with strength and grace, while other days we may feel weak, or out of balance. There will be times that our minds are in synch with our movements and the practice is meditative and mentally quiet. And, on the contrary, there will be times that the mental practice of the yoga we are doing is a chaotic struggle. Some days, when we practice, we will fall into the poses with fluid flexibility, while others we are stiff, and sore, and in pain. No practice, mentally or physically, will ever be the same.
And perhaps this is the most important reason we refer to “doing” yoga as a practice. We called it a practice because it is about the process that we are engaged in while we are on our mats. It is about what we are doing in that very moment, how we are doing it, and the intention we have brought into our practice. It is about being mindful, doing our best, and letting certain things come and other things go.
And so it is with life, is it not? Life, more than anything, is a practice. For much like yoga, we never exactly master life. We will excel in some areas of life, but we will never reach perfection. Likewise, for any given reason and in any give way, there will be days that feel good, and days that feel bad. There will be times when our best comes naturally to us, and times that we really struggle. Like yoga, life is not a competition and there is no end goal to attach to. Rather, in life, just as in yoga, it is about the life that we are living from moment to moment, how we are living, and the intention and purpose we manifest in the process of living this beautiful thing called life.
Ellie Holbrook, MA, LPC, RYT200
March 28th, 2014
I often come across To-Do Lists that enumerate the things that I must do in, or add to my already very-full life. And while these lists often shine light upon areas of life that are thirsting for attention, I find that incorporating more into my life is not what I need. Rather, what I need is less. The following is a list to things to start subtracting.
Stop spending time with the wrong people. Life is far too short to spend time with the people that drain your energy. Re-evaluate those that do not fulfill or replenish you in some way.
Stop running from your problems. Know that you cannot change what you do not confront, and know that this is not easy nor instantaneous. But the delayed gratification is indeed worth the effort and the wait.
Stop lying to yourself. Let’s be honest. We aren’t really fooling ourselves anyway, are we?
Stop putting your own needs on the back burner. Know the difference between selflessness and self-neglect.
Stop trying to be someone you’re not. Be authentic, or the you that feels most like yourself. And know that this this good
Stop trying to hold onto the past. Let go of the past and instead change your relationship with it Change how it lives within you.
Stop being afraid of mistakes. Mistakes can be inconvenient. But they need be nothing more than that. So, dare, do, and adapt. And use old mistakes propel and guide you, not define you or bring you down.
Stop trying to buy happiness. Happiness does not have a price. Know that your worth is intrinsic, and do not attach a price tag to it.
Stop looking to others for happiness. We cannot offer nor experience what we already do not carry within us.
Stop being idle. Go and do. Go and be. This is called living
Stop waiting to be ready. More often than not, we will never feel quite “ready”. Know when to act, ready or not.
Stop being in relationships for the wrong reasons. Bad company is not a good substitute for loneliness. Choose wisely, and do not force the process. And remember that all relationships have something good to offer, even if it is a hard lesson learned.
Stop competing, and stop being jealous. There will always been someone “better” and you will always be “better” than someone else.
Stop complaining. You are not a victim, and no one is out to get you. The curveballs of life are meant to shift your direction, not derail you.
Stop holding grudges. Hatred is toxic. Especially to the self. Forgiveness is the anecdote. For both the self and others
Stop letting others bring you down. Take the high road so they have a place to step up to. Show them that there is a better way.
Stop explaining yourself. Your friends don’t need it and your enemies won’t believe you, anyway.
Stop doing the same things over and over. Or you’ll keep getting the same things over and over. Distance yourself from old patterns and learn.
Stop overlooking small moments. They are bigger than you think.
Stop striving for perfection. Instead, strive for effective
Stop following the path of least resistance. Take the road less traveled by.
Stop saying it’s okay when it isn’t. It is okay to be not-okay sometimes. Rather, sometimes, this is exactly what you need to do in order to pick up the pieces and be okay again.
Stop blaming others. If you blame others for what goes wrong, who gets credit for what goes right? Own your life.
Stop trying to be everything to everyone. This is impossible and it leads to burn out . Narrow your focus and be good at what you do.
Stop worrying. Know when to let go and when to transform that energy into action, and watch the world change.
Stop focusing on what you don’t want. Invest in positive thinking, and you will attract wonderful l things.
Stop being ungrateful. There is always, always something to be grateful for. Always.
Ellie Holbook, MA, LPC, RYT200
Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Yoga Teacher
February 19th, 2014
As a therapist, I work in the field of self-improvement. My job, in essence, is to help the individuals I work with increase their satisfaction in life by obtaining goals, working through difficult problems, and attaining personal growth. And through my work, and my own life experiences, I am reminded each and every day that we as humans, are in fact, human.
…And while I realize that statement does not exactly sound all that profound, it is true. We humans are, well, human. We are imperfect. Idiosynchratic. Flawed, even. We make mistakes. We have regrets. We learn things the hard way. We think silly thoughts, experience confusing emotions, and behave in ways that does not always make sense.
As humans, we live our lives as best we can, yet even so, our lives can get incredibly messy. And when this happens, when we fall short of the rather high expectations we have set for ourselves, we become disappointed and seem to unforgivingly forget the fact that we are human.
It is during these times that we would be best served to forgive ourselves for our own humanness and instead practice radical acceptance. In doing so, we might begin by acknowledging and embracing the following hard, yet liberating, truths:
1. You are talented at some things. But not all things.
Acknowledge that you are skilled and talented in many ways. Honor and celebrate your strengths, use them to your advantage at all times, and be proud of yourself. Yet also remind yourself that it is okay that you are not good at everything. That would be impossible.
2. You will make mistakes. You may fail. Sometimes even more than you succeed.
But this does not mean that your failures outweigh your successes and triumphs, nor is it an excuse for you to give up. Remember that doing your best is what is most important in these instances. It is the process that matters. Even failures have value, honor, and beauty.
3. You are special. Not always in the way you would like to think you are, but also in ways that you do not realize.
It is important to know that you are important, loved, and unique. And it is even more important to remember that every human life is important, loved, and unique in equal ways. None more so than any other. Ever.
4. Much of what happens in life is beyond our control.
Try as we might to plan out our lives, life often has its own plans for us. So rather than resisting the flow of life and attempting to control that which we cannot, practice acceptance and surrender, and find the value of what life has in store for you.
5. Everything is temporary.
The only constant is change. Nothing stays the same forever. Find comfort in this, and know that this is what makes life precious.
January 22nd, 2014
p style=”text-align: justify;”>As I have mentioned in recent columns, I have recently found myself reflecting upon the past few years of my life, as I often do at the dawn of a New Year. And, in reviewing the past few years, I will be honest that I was not surprised by the themes that I noticed: a bit of stagnancy peppered with periods of forward momentum, setbacks and hardship, triumphs and gains. All in all, these past few years have been good in one way or another, but they have not been easy, nor can I sum them in a mere 500-word column.
And so it goes for many of us, no?
Having that said, let us suffice it to say that life is good, even when it is hard, and some of life’s greatest gifts often come to us as blessings in disguise. So, even when we find ourselves amidst confusion and discomfort, we must find a way to move along in one way or another. Which brings me to the topic of this week’s column: the concept of momentum.
…If you were to consult your dictionary, you would find that Webster defines momentum as “the strength or force that allows something to continue or to grow stronger or faster as time passes”. And it seems to me that this definition is rather correct. Because when we think of building momentum, we think of something that is gaining and growing and building upon its own progress, much like the proverbial Snowball Effect.
And according to this mindset, this definition of momentum would be correct. At least in the world of physics.
But because I am not a physicist, and I am instead first a human, and then a counselor, I do not conceptualize momentum in the same way. Rather, when I think of the momentum that we gain as human beings, I cannot help but to think that momentum might appear to be quite the opposite at times. For there may be times, that despite out best efforts to move onward and upward and gain forward momentum, we may find ourselves doing quite the contrary. We may feel that we are not gaining ground, but instead moving backward, or at a complete standstill. We may feel that our progress has slowed and we have lost our momentum.
And really this is okay. Because as humans, progress and growth is rarely linear, and it involves both pleasure and pain.
So if you have found that you have lost your momentum, do not lose heart. Find the power of the pause, and use this time to your advantage. Follow your own gaze as you look inward to contemplate this inner standstill. Ask questions and reflect upon the answers that come up. Get reacquainted with who and where you are now to reach a deeper understanding. Shift your focus from getting somewhere via momentum to experiencing where you are at this moment on your journey. As you do so, you may likely find that you are better able to move forward with intention, rather than simply succumbing to momentum.
Ellie Holbrook Otteson, MA, LPC
January 8th, 2014
p style=”text-align: justify;”>This January, as I found myself reflecting on my journey into the New Year, I recalled a story that my father has often told about letting go and moving on.
As he told the this story, he always prefaced it with an acknowledgement of the fact that many people have great difficulty letting go of the past. Because we become emotionally invested in, and therefore, tied to, our past experiences, we often struggle to let go of our attachments. We tend to hang on to such artifacts as past hurts and guilty feelings, triumphs and failures, relationships and days gone by. And because we are unable to discard these things by letting go of them, finding acceptance, or extending forgiveness, we hang on to them and place them in a metaphorical bag that we carry with us wherever we go. And naturally, as we journey through life, this bag becomes heavy and cumbersome, as we accumulate more and more things to hang on to. Eventually, this bag grows to be so large that it gets in the way of our everyday life.
After offering a description of this metaphorical bag that we all carry with us, my father would tell a story of a man who had encountered great difficulty throughout his life. This man, who was also carrying a bag much like the rest of us, was trying to make his way across a river. The river that he had to cross was quite dangerous, as it was raging with a strong current and white-water rapids, and the only way to cross it was a narrow log that was stretched from bank to bank.
As the man attempted to make his way over the slippery log with his bag, he struggled to move forward, for the bag that he carried with him weighed him down and prevented him from maintaining his balance. Desperate to cross the river, the man carefully placed one foot in front of the other, hoping to stay atop the log long enough to reach the other side. As he looked to the banks of the other side of the river, the man saw someone waving their arms above their head and yelling to him. But because he was concentrating so hard on trying not to fall into the water below, he could not make out what they were saying.
Finally, when he stopped to listen closely, he heard them as they cry out to him, “Let go of the bag!”. And once he was able to do so, he was able to progress and move forward to the safety of the other side of the river.
Ellie Holbrook Otteson, MA, LPC
January 5th, 2014
With the New Year just around the corner, many of us will reflect upon the days gone by of 2013. As we do so, we will likely look back on the past 365 days and see things with 20/20 vision. We may see what could have been, what should have been, or we may simply accept all that is or was, for better or for worse, about 2013.
And just as we might reflect on the past, many of us may find ourselves looking into the future, creating New Year’s Resolutions for 2014, and setting intentions for the next 365 days.
If you identify at all with the latter group, consider the following story:
At the dawn of the New Year, a young student was told by his master, “Now that you are becoming more aware of yourself, I would like you to set reassess this years’ goals, so as not to lose the momentum that you have recently gained.”
“Much like a New Year’s Resolution,” the student said.
The master replied, “Exactly”, and then he gave the following assignment: “Make two lists. The first will include the New Year’s Resolutions of this year that you would like to keep. The second will include the Resolutions that you actually will keep. Begin with the first list, and when you have exhausted all of your ideas, begin your second list.”
The student went home and began his assignment immediately.
As he created his list of wants, he jotted down all the things that he had always wanted to do, from the things that he had been meaning to get around to his wildest dreams. After nearly an hour, his list of wants filled an entire page and contained all of his ideas about an ideal life. He then began the second list of the Resolutions that he will keep, which he found to be much easier and far more realistic and practical.
He brought both lists to his master the following morning. Upon greeting the student, the master said, “Tell me about your two lists.”
“The first list,” explained the student, “Contains all the things that I should do if I were to change my life in such a way to become the person that I have always wanted to be. The second list contains everything that I could do by accepting my life as it is and taking a more practical approach to the living the life of my dreams.”
“Interesting,” said the master, “Please let me see the second list.”
Without even looking at the list, the master ripped the piece of paper into tiny shreds and threw it away. The student felt hurt by this at first, however, it soon dawned on him that this second list did not matter whatsoever. It was the first list, the list containing his dream life, that mattered most.
“And now, the first list,” Said the master, holding out his hands.
And upon being handed the first list, he crumpled it up and tossed it into the trash without another thought.
Angry and hurt, the student cried, “Why did you do that!?”
“What you could do with your life does not matter. Nor does what you should do with your life,” explained the master. “The only thing that matters from this moment forward is what you actually do do.”
Ellie Holbrook Otteson, MA, LPC
December 12th, 2013
While sifting through an assortment of mementos from last year’s holiday season, I came across my then-four-year-old daughter’s Christmas list. I had found it so endearing that I included it in my column. Some of you may remember such highlights as: a brand-new real-live kitten, someone to come out of the TV, a huge motorcycle machine that drives her off in pretty clothes, to climb a mountain and slide down a rainbow and run super-fast in the really-far woods, sticky gloves to climb the walls and ceiling, her own money that is pink, and a brand new costume that is everything.
Rae, who is now a spirited five-year-old, wrote a Christmas list this year that includes no more and no less than one bunny rabbit, a hamster named Mr. Cuddles, a pet cat, one chipmunk, and a wiener dog. After reviewing this list with her, I asked Rae if there was anything else that she would like from Santa. Her reply, of course, was “Fairies!”
In response to this list, I told her, “These are all living things, Rae. Isn’t there something else that you might like? I only see living things on your list. Why don’t I see anything inanimate? Why do you only want pets?”
Without skipping a beat, Rae said quite matter of factly, “Because I will love them. And they will love me.”
Her brother Ian, who included a goat on his Christmas list this year, chimed in and asked, “Yeah, what matters more than that, Mom?”
…And, not surprisingly, I had no reply. Because they are right. As much as I do not want a bunny rabbit, a hamster, a pet cat, one chipmunk, a wiener dog, and a goat occupying my already very busy and very tiny home, I had no answer to this very simple question.
Nor could I argue with the point that they had made.
Because, really, there is precious little on this Earth that matters more than love. Especially the selfless love that children seem so eager, and so naturally able, to give and receive.
And that is truly the essence of the holiday season, is it not? To celebrate those that we love most, not that which we love most. To cherish our loved ones. To love them, nurture them, and allow them the opportunity to do the same for their loved ones.
So, this holiday season, rather than focusing on what you have in your life, I hope you are instead able to focus on who you have in your life. Shift your focus from the things that we fill our lives with to those that fulfill our lives. Those that we have to love and to cherish. And those that we receive love from.
Ellie Holbrook Otteson, MA, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor
Lighthouse Counseling, Ltd
November 26th, 2013
With the holiday season upon us, many of us will find ourselves caught up on a cycle of overabundance, or the state of having “too much”. More than we need, more than we can use, more than we can process. Overabundance is the cup that floweth over.
While it certainly is a blessing to have enough, it seems that we have become a culture of excess. And strangely, this can be taxing, as it creates stress, drains us of our precious resources, and shifts our focus from gratitude to greed.
As you reflect on your Thanksgiving celebration and look forward to the festivities of Christmas and the New Year, consider the following areas of overabundance and how they affect your life.
Overabundance of food: Eating, drinking, and merry-making is undoubtedly a central and very pleasurable part of celebrating the holidays. As such, it is also one area in which overindulgence is common, nearly expected, and quite often, regretted. So as you partake in the merry-making this year, remember to be mindful of your internal cues, rather than relying only on the external.
Overabundance of gifts: The cycle of giving and receiving can be overwhelming, especially when the act of giving is overshadowed by the quantity of “stuff” being received. To break this cycle, do not hesitate to give on a smaller, yet just as meaningful, scale.
Overabundance of socializing: This time of year is certainly one to be celebrated, however, it is not uncommon that we find ourselves attending social functions because we feel that we “must”. This is often caused by a sense of obligation, the expectations of others, or the fear of missing out. And while there is nothing wrong with joining in on the festivities, it is also okay to graciously decline invitations, to rest, and be still.
Overabundance of relationship stress: Family, dear friends, and loved ones often take center stage this time of year, and this is for good reason. However, because we are so busy during the holiday season, we often do not have time to work on our relationships and thus perpetuate strained interactions with those we love most. During this time, remember to be gentle and forgiving with yourself and others.
Overabundance of tradition: Remember that just because you have “always done it this way” does not mean that you have to keep doing it this way if it no longer fits. In these situations, do not be afraid to break free from the old to embrace something new.
Overabundance of group-thought: To avoid mindless consumption and overabundance, be mindful of the impact that collective thinking can have on your well-being. During this holiday season, take time to reconnect with yourself, your loved ones, and that which gives your life meaning.
As you step away from overabundance during this holiday season, you will likely discover that it is a process. A process that involves both tuning into yourself and tuning out of that which no longer serves you. Of letting go of the old so that you may embrace the new. And most importantly, it involves embracing an attitude of gratitude and feeling satisfied and fulfilled with having enough.
Ellie Holbrook Otteson, MA, LPC, RYT200
Willmar, MN 56201
November 13th, 2013
With the dawn of the holiday season nearly upon us, I am reminded daily that it really is one of the most wonderful times of year.
It is also one of the most stressful. As such, I thought I might share a handful of reminders that I have been given to maintain some modicum of mental and emotional balance during an otherwise potentially stressful time:
Do not lose sight of what truly matters. Your definition of what truly matters is your compass. It will help you remember that petty things do not, in fact, signify the end of the world, and it will redirect you to what is truly important to you.
It is okay to be alone. When you find yourself cocooning, remember that it is okay to pull back from the world, to take rest, to re-evaluate, and to take time. Quite often, this quality time with yourself, this time of hiatus, is also a time of healing, restoration, and growth.
You are not always in control. Recall the Serenity Prayer. Whether we like it or not, we are not always in control. It is during these times that we are best served to “let it go” so that we may instead “let it come”.
What other people think is irrelevant. Of course, we want people to think of well of us. And this is okay, because it means that we care. Yet, the truth of the matter is that we simply cannot please everyone and their opinions are their business, not ours.
Do not give up. And, do not confuse “giving up” with letting go or surrendering to something greater.
You need not know all the answers, all the time. Quite often, not knowing what to do means that it is not time to do anything at all. So, live the questions and learn to embrace uncertainty, as uncertainty is certainly part of life.
You are enough. You are. And so is all that you do.
Be here. Now. Stay present. This is hard, as we have a tendency to relive the past and lean into the future. Yet, doing so changes nothing about what has been, nor does it control what will be.
Your feelings will not kill you. Despite what it feels like, feelings are fleeting. Just as joy does not last forever, neither does heartbreak. Find the strength to ride the wave, and you will find that you can endure anything.
You are human. Therefore, give yourself credit for your triumphs, and forgive yourself for your short comings. You will have many of both, so rather than clinging to them and tearing yourself down, build yourself up, and embrace everything about this moment right here, right now.
October 29th, 2013
p style=”text-align: justify;”>Every now and then, I have to remind myself that it is okay to let go and do nothing. That it is okay to sit in silence and just breathe. To be okay with the fact that I cannot always make sense of my thoughts and feelings, and accept the experience of being uncertain about what it is I should do next. And while these moments may certainly be uncomfortable for me, I do take comfort in knowing that I do not have to have it all figured out just yet. That decisions need not be made at all times, and that I can take the time I require to listen to myself and sort through my thoughts and feelings. To pause and reflect on who and where I am, at this time, and just be in that moment, living, and breathing through it.
Sometimes the best advice that we can give ourselves is to just breathe through the moment that we are, inhaling the good and exhaling the bad. It is quite similar to taking a much needed pause that I have referenced so many times before. Remembering to “just breathe” helps us center our minds and our hearts while also encouraging the body to relax. Research has proven time and time again that the power of the breath has calming and healing properties, much as it does in yoga and other mindfulness practices. And while it might not exactly cure what ails us (though some say that it does), it certainly does help us bring our awareness back to where we are, and what we are experiencing in that present moment.
Mindfully breathing, especially during times of stress, helps turn our awareness into ourselves, slowing our minds, relaxing our bodies, and encouraging them to become one. Taking a moment to breathe, center our minds, and synchronize our bodies is truly mindfulness at its best. It is mindful because it forces us to let go of the noise inside of our heads and bring our awareness to what is going on right now. As we do so, we must let go of what has gone on in the past, no matter how recent, and ignore our thoughts about the future, no matter how near.
Simply stated, we have no choice but to take our minds off of everything except our most immediate experiences as they occur. In essence, as we breathe and turn our awareness inward, we are able to mindfully experience our most immediate internal and external happenings, and open ourselves to clarity, self-awareness, and peace.
So today, if you do nothing else for yourself, at the very least, remember to breathe. Inhale the good. Exhale the bad. Resist the urge to do, and instead, allow yourself to just be.
Ellie Holbrook Otteson, MA, LPC