Paula's Blog

Paula Koppel's background in health promotion, gerontology, and counseling enable her to support individuals seeking to attain optimal health.

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Life Stories

As a child, I first experienced the joy of reading when a teacher suggested I explore biographies, and even today find my favorite books are memoirs.  My passion for learning from the "life stories" of older adults drew me toward my work in nursing and geriatrics.  

As a health coach, I have an opportunity to help clients listen deeply to their own stories.  They often discover important values or elements just below the surface of their storyline that provide fresh perspectives on ways they can move forward in their lives.  

Sometimes clients realize that if they don't change the plot of their story, the final chapters will not be pleasant.  This often provides a powerful motivation to make lifestyle changes that have eluded them in the past. 

Often life stories highlight aspects of our lives we have lost touch with but wish to again cultivate.   Stories also uncover unrecognized passions, values or assets that can be used to strengthen the desire and capacity to make changes that will enhance health and happiness.  

I often ask clients to relay a story that embodies who they are.  If I were asked this question myself, I might share that I walk my cats on a leash.   

If you aren't a cat lover, you might think this is a bit bizarre.  But on a deeper level, it illustrates one of the things that gives my life meaning and purpose. My cats love to be outside and I believe that fresh air and exercise is important to their wellbeing and mine.  Letting them roam freely is a dangerous proposition where I live, so I walk my cats on a leash (or more accurately, they walk me).  To some, this would be an arduous chore but to me it is pure pleasure.  This is because I find meaning in my own life by helping cultivate health, healing and happiness in my family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, clients, garden, home, and yes, even my beloved cats. 


Healing Places and Spaces

It’s important to take time to evaluate your physical environment, noticing how it impacts your mood, behaviors and levels of stress.  Sometimes we have a sense for which environments promote our wellness and which ones cause stress, but we still don’t take the time to create an environment at work and home that capitalize on this self-knowledge. 

Here are a few changes I have made in my own physical environment that have had a substantial impact on my wellbeing.  I hope they will encourage you to begin brainstorming ways to change your own environment to make it more supportive of health and happiness. 

Music:  I’m not someone who is constantly plugged into my iPod but I have discovered that music has an important influence on my mood and outlook.  I have even become aware of how certain songs trigger a cascade of memories and stories in my mind.  Sometimes this is beneficial but often it causes me to begin thinking or worrying about the past or future, hijacking my enjoyment of the present moment.  So I decided to take control of my musical input by creating tracks on my iPod for the mood/outlook I desire.  I have a track for exercise that is upbeat and energizing as well as a track that pulls together music I find relaxing.  I also like listening to Pandora Radio because it allows me to create my own stations.  When a song is played that doesn’t generate the spirit I desire, I can quickly log this into the system and it won’t play on my station again.  I’m particularly fond of ambient music, finding it helps me focus when I’m working and relax when I’m ready for bed. 

Visual Cues in the Kitchen:  When it comes to eating, I often makes choices based on convenience and the amount of time I have to prepare and eat a meal or snack.  With this in mind, I decided to put healthy and quick options clearly visible and readily available in my kitchen.  I purchased a variety of clear plastic containers to sit on my kitchen counter and filled them with nuts, seeds, dried fruits and whole-wheat crackers.  In addition, after shopping for produce I immediately clean and prepare most of the fruits and vegetables and place them in easy to reach containers in my refrigerator.   When it’s time to prepare a meal or snack, they are ready to cook or eat immediately with very little additional effort. 

Special space for Meditation:  It took me time to find a space that was conducive to my formal sitting meditative practice.  I tried a number of locations in my home before settling on a surprising site.  I live in a four-story narrow brownstone in Boston and discovered that a small bench on the fourth floor landing is perfect.  This very small space has little to distract me and a skylight provides natural light.  On the padded bench, I have a small meditation book and a bamboo basket that holds small scrapes of paper with the names of family, friends, or situations I wish to hold close to my heart.  The simplicity and natural light are undoubtedly important but I also realize, having a space that is completely devoted to meditation validates how essential this element is to my life.  The more I practice on this small landing, the more this space seems to cultivate my practice and create a deeper sense of wellbeing.  

Take a few moments now to reflect on your own physical environment.  Is there something easy you can do right away to make your environment a bit more conducive to your health?  If so, set this intention and act on it today.   In addition, consider sharing your goal with the Age Well Be Well community by posting it on my blog this week.  I look forward to hearing and learning from each of you. 

Be well,



Abating Fear

Fear has shaped my life since childhood.  I have vivid memories of my grandmother holding my hand tightly when strangers passed on the sidewalk, and even recall a great grandmother hiding in a closet during a thunderstorm.  I remember having a difficult time sleeping in my own room and being home alone at night, even as teenager.  Once I turned forty, I became more aware of how my fears and anxiety were taking a toll on my life, and I began to take steps to manage these emotions.  Despite continued struggles with anxiety, today I practice healthier ways to cope with this everyday companion.  In the past, my main source of coping involved extensive strategies to protect my family and myself from harm.  I created elaborate backup plans for everything I imagined might happen.  This was not only time consuming, but also emotionally exhausting.  Today I know that what helps me most is simply to observe the fears--neither pushing them away nor holding on to them tightly. Of course I still find myself getting caught up with worries many times each day.  But the moment I recognize them as thoughts rather than reality, I am able to relax again.  I gain confidence in my ability to handle life's challenges.  This makes it easier for me to let go of the drive to protect and plan for adversity.

My own personal fears about aging revolve primarily around the disease and disabilities of my family members and patients.  These particular concerns have motivated me to maintain healthy lifestyle behaviors and proactively monitor my health.  What are your greatest fears about aging?  Are any of them laughable when you really stop and evaluate them rationally?  How do you cope with your fears, anxieties, and worries?  I look forward to hearing your stories and know that our "Age Well Be Well community" will benefit from those who are willing to share.  



Focus on Self-Care to Enhance Your Health

Recently I have been contemplating why self-care is such a difficult task to embrace and am curious to hear what you think about this subject via my blog. As I work with clients I'm discovering that often a combination of several factors hamper self-care.  These factors include expectations established by the current healthcare system, life balance issues and personal beliefs.

Our healthcare system today is dominated by the diagnosis and treatment of illness and disease. This focus has resulted in our healthcare revolving largely around our primary care providers (medical doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant). The resulting expectation is that this provider will tell us what is wrong and prescribe a treatment or medication to cure or treat what ails us. While this medical care is essential it often overshadows the responsibility each of us has to our own self-care.
In addition, self-care requires that we increase awareness about our own health needs and take steps daily to meet them. At a basic level this requires making good choices about how we use and what we put into our body and mind. Self-care requires knowledge of what to do but also a willingness to invest in self. This "self-investment" is especially difficult when our work and family commitments demand so much of our time and energy. There often doesn't seem to be any time left over to care for self.

Taking the time to care for self not only requires an investment in our time and energy but also slowing down long enough to become aware of the needs of our body, mind and spirit. So often in the past when I found myself ill, I realized in retrospect that my body had given me messages or cues about it's needs but I just didn't listen. Sometimes I was aware of those hints and choose to ignore them. Sometimes I was going so fast that I didn't even hear them. How often has this happened to you?
Beliefs also influence our ability to commit to self-care. Perhaps early life experiences suggested serving others was valued or focusing on self was selfish. Such experiences often create underlying and unconscious beliefs that inhibit our ability to make a commitment to self-care.

Do you have any self-care goals that roll over repeatedly into your New Year's resolution? Goals like exercising more or eating better that you seriously want to do, know how to do but never actually get around to doing.  If so, you are not alone but finding the capacity to actually accomplish these goals will likely require more than just more discipline.  Instead consider looking deeper into what beliefs might be feeding your inaction.  Explore a vision for your life based on deep values that motivate how you want to be.




My Mindful Mantra

When learning to meditate it is often useful to have something to center your attention.  Focusing on breathing is the most common technique.  But concentrating on a word/phase (a mantra) or small poems or prayers (gathas) in addition to breathing can also be very useful.  I often use mantras and gathas along with prayer beads when my mind is especially active and I’m having trouble coming back to my breathe during my meditations.  I use this strategy when my life is exceptionally busy or stressful.

I combine my favorite mantras and gatha into a string that calms and centers my mind and body.  I repeat each section three times before going on to the next mantra.  

 I honor my inner self

I bow to my true nature

May I be free of the struggle that comes from focusing on the past and the future

May I find peace in this present moment

May I live my life with compassion

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

The courage to change the things I can

The wisdom to know the difference

The quiet stillness to see and feel your grace


What is your favorite mantra or gatha and how do you use it in your practice?  Please consider sharing a comment on the blog.  Your thoughts will help nurture the Age Well Be Well community.