Meditation

Cultivating Somatic Awareness

“Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older.”Hans Selye, MD, pioneer in understanding stress

We humans spend a lifetime in our bodies, yet all too often we assume that body and mind are separate—the mind controlling what we do, the body dutifully obeying its commands. The eminent neuroscientist Candace Pert, PhD, author of Molecules of Emotion, wrote, “Mind doesn’t dominate body, it becomes body—body and mind are one.” The perceived separateness of mind and body has contributed to an epidemic of stress, chronic pain, and sleeplessness in our culture. Cultivating somatic awareness of the integration of our body and mind may help us achieve a greater sense of well-being. It may even extend our lives.

Stress, the nervous system, and the body

StressAs newborns, unlike most animals, we are not able to consciously control our bodies. But as we gradually learn how to move within our bodies and engage our senses, our body awareness expands. This awareness may be arrested, however, as we develop habits and succumb to the stressors of daily living—like when we sit for hours on end in front of a computer or allow our stressful lives to put us in a persistently anxious state. Residues of habitual patterns are held in the body as muscle tension. Regularly experiencing emotions like anger and fear can also cause persistent muscle tension; both can result in various forms of chronic distress.

Our nervous systems evolved to enable us to cope with short-term, life-threatening stressors. The so-called fight-or-flight response is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful threat to our survival. This is a healthy response as long as the fight is followed by rest and rejuvenation. The pressures of contemporary living can be almost 24/7. Many of us never have a chance to release tension and to really relax. Over time, such unrelieved stress can take an extreme psychological and physical toll in such forms as anxiety and chronic pain.

Body keeps score

Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, MD, author of The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, describes “the extreme disconnection from the body that so many people with histories of trauma and neglect experience.” Dr. van der Kolk’s pioneering work on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has shown that the most critical aspect of healing is learning to fully embrace one’s emotional, psychological, and physical self. Having an inner sense of self alerts us to potential disharmonies and enables the body to reharmonize itself.

Nervous system Our bodies are truly amazing in their structure and function. Information received from our bodies and the environment through our five senses is transmitted to our brain through the nervous system. Habitual stresses and traumas can produce muscle contractions in specific areas of the body. Over time these contractions become so unconscious and imbedded that we lose the capacity to sense or control them. The result is stiffness, soreness, and restricted range of movement. Thomas Hanna, PhD, philosophy professor, founder of the field of somatics, and author of Somatics: Reawakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility, and Health, coined the term sensory-motor amnesia for this phenomenon.

The nervous system regulates every function of our body. The autonomic nervous system acts largely unconsciously, or involuntarily, regulating bodily functions such as the heart rate, digestion, and respiration. The somatic nervous system, also known as the voluntary nervous system, contains both nerves that send information to the brain and nerves that send information from the brain to the body and includes motor neurons responsible for voluntary movements like walking or lifting. Pain, whether physical or emotional, is an essential part of life designed to help us avoid harmful or dangerous stimuli or circumstances. The sensation of pain (or even numbness) acts as a messenger, the nervous system’s way of telling us something is wrong. We can ignore its message and suffer, or we can learn from it and take action.

Our bodies should continue to improve

 Re-awakening

When our senses and feelings become muffled by sensory motor amnesia, we no longer feel fully alive. Our bodies become more rigid, achy, or numb as the range of muscle movement is diminished because we’ve forgotten how to move those muscles. When we believe our mind is separate and takes charge of the body, we may accept that our physical and emotional pain is due to “my limitations” or “getting old.” Such acceptance enhances our feeling of separateness and can cause us to lose our sense of what it means to be human. Consequently, we are unable to realize our full potential.

Reawaken the nervous systemAccording to Dr. Hanna, however, the brain is a highly adaptive organ. We can retrain our nervous system, awakening the areas of the brain that have forgotten how to regulate both physical and emotional patterns in the body. Somatic awareness helps us acknowledge the presence of our whole self within our environment, rather than viewing our body as something separate from ourselves. We become acutely aware of our feelings, sensations, movements, and intentions at any given moment. Such self-awareness enables us to address trauma and anxiety and thus promote healing.

“As we grow older, our bodies–and our lives–should continue to improve, right up until the very end.” -Thomas Hanna, founder of Clinical Somatic Education

Different approaches

Classic approaches that may help reawaken body awareness include yoga, t’ai chi, Yoga Nidra meditation, massage, and breathwork. Specific methods developed over the past century include the Alexander Technique, the Feldenkrais Method, and Hanna Somatic Education. These practices are similar in that they teach gentle movements to identify and reverse harmful habits and learn to move more freely. Somatic therapies are also being used in psychotherapy for people who suffer from sexual dysfunction, digestive disorders, and other physical/emotional ailments.

Participants in a National Institutes of Health study on body awareness reported that cultivating somatic awareness helped them become aware of the differences between thinking about a sensation and directly experiencing the sensation. This awareness has helped them gain a more accepting attitude toward the changing sensations in the body. With less judgment and analysis of situations, they had more openness to various possibilities and solutions. One person noted: “The more comfortable I become in my body and not into my head, the more comfortable I find people are with me.

My own journey

iRest meditation

iRest meditation

Cultivating somatic awareness has been a lifelong journey for me, having been drawn to many unique ways of being in my body, including practicing yoga, dancing, and engaging in various forms of movement practices. When I was first introduced to iRest® Yoga Nidra meditation, I immediately fell in love with it because of its emphasis on body awareness, and I knew I wanted to help awaken this awareness in others. Yet, I still struggled with my own patterns of muscle tension, especially when sitting at the computer or driving long distances. I recently enrolled in a somatic movement education training program that teaches simple movements to help relax muscles. I’ve already experienced a positive change in my body, and I am excited to have another tool to teach others that can enable them to experience integration of mind and body and live healthier and perhaps longer lives.

In addition to Dr. Hanna’s book on Somatics, I highly recommend : The Pain Relief Secret: How to Retrain Your Nervous System, Heal Your Body, and Overcome Chronic Pain, by Sarah Warren.

 

Loving kindness

Taking Pause

“It’s not so much knowing when to speak, but when to pause.”—Jack Benny, American comedian who died in 1974

What is a pause? Generally, it’s an interlude or gap between two things. Some pauses are long and others brief. Some may seem pregnant with meaning, especially when someone pauses while speaking. If you’re taking a class or attending a speech or presentation Continue reading

stress-relief with iRest meditation

Post-Election – Pre-Holiday Stress-Relief

Have you felt overly stressed during the recent election season? Do you feel disheartened with opposing ideologies and uncertainty about the future?

I offer you this short 6-minute stress-relief restorative iRest meditation. May this help you to de-stress, re-harmonize, and access an inner resource to help you restore resilience to meet whatever shows up during the coming times ahead.

I invite you to attend my free iRest meditations on Sunday morning or Thursday afternoon.

hemmingway

Using Your Three Brains to Access Grace Under Pressure

Evoking the quality and tone of the modern era, Ernest Hemingway coined the phrase “grace under pressure.” In his major works of fiction, he created protagonists who face defeat without panic, much as he did in his own life. Today, personal and societal pressures have never been greater, which can take a massive toll on our health and well-being, and keeping one’s cool under pressure may never have been harder. When pressures arise, we need to learn how to engage our three brains — head, heart and gut — to help us realize our true self and access the grace to meet life with a resilient spirit. Continue reading

Carefree Mindlessness vs Mindfulness

Are You Dancing with Mindlessness or Mindfulness?

Mind like popping cornWhat were you thinking about before you started reading this? Do you ever notice an obsessive chattering inside your head when you’re not totally engrossed in something? Your mind is like popping corn, jumping from one thought to another. Mindlessness is pervasive in our culture. At times, most of us have functioned on autopilot, as though we were sleepwalking, not paying much attention to anything but the endless dialogue in our heads. Continue reading

lifespan

Whole and Complete as You Are

Not long ago, I read that our average lifespan is 30,000 days. How many days have you already used up and how many might you have left?

Life is so precious. Each day is a blessing that holds a responsibility to express your special gifts into the world. What would your days be like if you weren’t bogged down by the past, reacting emotionally in the present, or anxious about the future? What if you could feel really at home and at peace in your skin, be in tune with the deepest desire for your life and express your best self in the world?Continue reading

welcome your emotions

Welcome Your Emotions: The Language of Your body

We live in a culture that stresses suppression of emotions. Don’t show your tears or welcoming emotionsyour anger. Hold it all in – and be nice! Yet, emotions such as anxiety, anger and sadness are not truly unhealthy in and of themselves. Our emotions provide valuable information. Welcoming your emotions and learning how to decipher their code and language can lead us down the path to wholeness.

The body offers emotions as messengers, signals that something is not quite in synch with our needs, values, or inner drive for fulfillment, to contribute meaningfully, connect with others, and so on. By welcoming these emotions, and asking questions, they can share information to guide us to something we need to know about our health and well-being.

As we learn their language and heed their message, we can then learn to live with them, and use them to help us make better life choices, while being free of their potential negative impact on our body and mind.

Of course, there are positive emotions, too. They also need to be questioned; for example, we need to examine our euphoria as we indulge in luscious desserts or buy another new outfit. However, we are going to focus on the emotions that contribute to feeling bad and stress that causes pain and suffering.

Managing stress

Stress itself isn’t really the problem. It’s how we handle stress that gets us in trouble. At an early age we taught ourselves how to handle stressful situations. Based on our core beliefs,welcoming emotions our subconscious is automatically triggered by words, language, actions or circumstances around us. Perceptions and judgments arise along with a whole chain reaction of thoughts, sensations, feelings and emotions.

Often emotions seemingly rise up for no apparent reason. Yet, there is always something that triggers them, whether from your external environment or inside you.

One way to address this is to pause whenever you notice that you are feeling discomfort, distressed or depressed. Take a deep breath and ask yourself what you were thinking or doing before the feelings arose, or what happened around you. Creating this awareness can help you consciously work things out or make the appropriate changes in your thinking. Each time you pay attention to these triggers you’ll begin to experience a release of the negative emotion or feeling more quickly.

neurocircuits 2What you are actually doing is re-wiring neuropathways and brain patterns that you unwittingly formulated long ago. The good news is that modern brain science tells us that the brain has plasticity. No matter how old your brain, you can change these patterns and eliminate the reactions to previous stressors.

The body can hold memories of stress stored over time. For many years my job involved a lot of phone work. This was before headsets. Over the years muscle tension accumulated in my left shoulder, neck and ribs. Even after I started using a headset, my body automatically positioned itself as it had learned to do. A pattern was ingrained within my body and brain. One day I realized what was happening and moved the phone to the right side and consciously worked at retraining how I held my body.

Welcoming emotionsThe body and mind also can hold memories of a traumatic event or accident. This is referred to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We frequently hear this term in reference to rape victims, people living through natural disasters and war veterans. It’s estimated that up to 20% of today’s returning veterans have some degree of PTSD and 30% for Vietnam veterans, many who continue to suffer today.

Embodied emotions from the past

Many years ago, I was at a friend’s home and accidentally chipped a ceramic piece. The friend said not to worry as her husband could repair it. However, the next day she phoned me extremely angry about the incident and the fact that “you didn’t even say you were sorry.” Following that call the emotions poured out of me. I suddenly had a flashback of being a little girl playing with a little porcelain tea set that I broke. My mother, bless her heart, was an ‘emotional spanker’. When she discovered what I had done – she became very angry and punished me. I now know my mother was doing the best she could based on her challenging life. But, at the time, I simply felt ashamed that I wasn’t a perfect little girl for her.

While my experience can hardly be compared to those who have experienced war or disaster, I was reliving a traumatic experience. We all experience mini traumas early on that can come to haunt us into our adult life if not nipped in the bud. To this day, the words “I’m sorry” are expressed like a knee jerk reaction whenever I “mess up.” But more and more I feel compassion, for myself and others who may be reacting.

Engaging mindfulness to welcome emotions

I’ve worked for many years with military veterans, mostly men from the Vietnam era, facilitating a guided meditation called, “Integrative Restoration, iRest.” Research has shown this modern adaptation of the ancient practice of Yoga Nidra to reduce the effects of PTSD, insomnia, chronic pain, and more. I am so proud of the dedication of the men I’ve work with who, after only three months, experienced many positive effects.

drop in waterOne of the hallmarks of the iRest protocol is to welcome emotions, as well as sensations, thoughts and beliefs that show up. We’re not trying to change anything. Rather, by welcoming and learning to be with the emotion or belief, the nervous system and the brain begin to return the body to its natural state of well-being and equanimity.

Positive and negative emotions

You can use your positive emotions to help combat the negative ones. In the iRest protocol we welcome emotions by feeling into each emotion and where it shows up in our body. We do the same with an opposite emotion followed by feeling back and forth between opposites. Finally bringing both together neutralizes their impact, restoring the body and mind to natural calmness.

Many factors impact how our body experiences emotions – foods we eat, exercise, the thoughts we think, and our inner exploration can play a role. Mindfulness practices such as meditation, yoga, being in nature, and recreational activities all can contribute to a healthy functioning of our brain, mind and body.

Balance and Harmony

As a former dancer I love moving my body, and often take a break to just move spontaneously with music or in silence. I recently led a workshop with female veterans, many who have the added impact of sexual assault issues. The workshop is called, “The Joy of Being in Movement.” This playful, expressive and guided meditative movement and body exploration experience provided them with a great outlet to express and release the emotions of the child within.

Our bodies, in synch with our brains, are constantly seeking a state of balance and harmony. We only need to tune into its channel and heed its life-enhancing message.

I invite you to attend my weekly iRest meditation classes when we get more in sync with what’s important in our lives.

maximize your energy

Maximize your energy

I’ve recently been blogging about how to Be a Wise Investor: of Your Thoughts and Your Time for your overall health and to get more out of life with less effort. Ours is a society of the overcommitted, cramming as much as possible into each day which can result in tremendous stress on your overall health and well-being. In addition to investing your thoughts and time more wisely, you can also learn how to invest and maximize your energy. Basically this energy is the life force that enables you to be physically active, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned.

You have the ability to maximize its quantity and minimize its waste.

Many of the performance demands of everyday work and personal life are tougher than those professional athletes face. Yet we are not trained as athletes are to manage our energy.

Our body/mind is like a vibrating string that needs constant tuning, much like instruments in an orchestra. Have you ever felt that your “life music” was out of tune? When you maximize your energy usage, you become fully engaged to put forth your best.

To be in tune is to be alive

To be alive is to consciously impose meaning on what you are doing. According to peak performance experts Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, authors of The Power of Full Engagement, the key to skillfully managing your energy is to build rituals and routines into your daily life, as athletes do when they train. When an activity is as routine as eating, sleeping and creating, you gain resilience and feel natural and in the flow.

Overcome energy blocks

Energy blocks and drains include negative emotions like anger and worry, and negative thoughts that pull you down. When you find yourself engaged in anger or negative thoughts, change the focus. Take a deep breath and ask for inner guidance to help you understand how to better handle the situation. Relax your face and say something to yourself that makes you feel supported and secure.

When I find myself getting into the worry mode, I ask myself, if the result of what I am worrying about is inevitable. Generally it isn’t. This defuses the power from worry and empowers me to come up with a plan. My energy expenditure is reduced, leaving me with energy to use for something more constructive.

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Instead of fighting life or trying to force it to work, reframe your challenges into rituals or routines with which you feel more in the flow of the moment. Whether in projects at work, household chores or fitness activities, go beyond the force of willpower, discipline or stamina, and focus on maximizing positive feelings and minimizing effort. Align yourself with like-minded people who vibrate at a higher energetic frequency and bring out the best of who you are.

Make a list of energy blocks and drains and begin to create precise and specific behaviors as rituals and routines that you can practice on a daily basis. Over time these practices act like vitamins and nutrients to build the “muscle” that stores the energy you need to meet your daily demands.

Putting it all together

How you invest your thoughts and time affects your available energy. These are intertwined and require regular attention and taking ownership. Invest wisely by incorporating conscious mindful routines such as meditation into your day. You’ll feel healthier, more in tune to play your life music – more fully engaged in living the life you deserve.

I invite you to attend my weekly iRest meditation classes when we get more in sync with what’s important in our lives.

investor of your time

Be a Wise Investor of Your Time

This is the second in my series, “Be a Wise Investor.” The first is: “Be a Wise Investor of Your Thoughts.” Thoughts are like a current. Positive thoughts light us up, while negative ones can darken our spirit. Scattered thoughts waste our time and energy. Now let’s explore a new way of looking at how we invest our time.

Time shift paradigm

‘Getting more out of life with less effort’ is one of my mottos.

Yet I sometimes feel pressured finding myself struggling running up against deadlines without enough time to complete projects. And I teach of stress management!

I recently learned that I’ve misunderstood what time really is. It’s not a commodity that we run out of. Rather it’s something we actually create.  Another thing I was never taught in school.

According to Gay Hendricks in his book, The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level, we are the source of time. He says we’ve all been stuck in the concept of Newtonian time, which is based on the notion that time is finite and we need to learn time management techniques.

There is only so much time and when you run out of it, it’s gone. We thus become victims of time. Time is our task master and we are its slaves.

Truth of space and time

Hendricks introduces a new paradigm for us to consider, “Einstein’s time.”

When you are doing what you love, such as basking in the arms of your beloved, you relax, and time and space seem to disappear. On the other hand, when you are doing something you don’t enjoy, you may feel pressured, worried, develop tight muscles, etc. – a minute can seem like an hour.

This is much more than learning time management and stress management techniques. When you are the source of time, you need to take ownership of it. Even in your busy life, you can make abundant time for family, interests and self-care.

To begin, Hendricks recommends regularly tuning into your body for sensations that reflect stress or pressure. Ask yourself where you are not taking full ownership in your life, and allowing yourself to be the victim. Then go on a victimhood diet eliminating phrases like, “there aren’t enough hours,” “I wish I had time for…”

Incorporating this liberating paradigm into my life is proving to be one of the best investments I’ve ever made. My ‘motto’ has increased in value!

I invite you to attend my weekly iRest meditation classes when we get more in sync with what’s important in our lives.