Tuesday, November 22, 2016

How Does Gratitude Heal? Here are 7 Ways...

It's everywhere right now - be grateful!  It might be overused, but the reason for the ubiquitousness of a simple practice such as gratitude is that there is research behind it.  So, pay attention!  Also, if you are just plain sick of the word gratitude, then use something else - awesome, love, happy, good, great, connected, etc.  If you are a regular reader, then we have talked about this before, but if not or you need a refresher, listen up:  the brain is super good at negativity!  Super good.  It is an evolutionary thing - the brain thinks its job is survival.  And, it is.  However, the job description in the past century has changed,  No longer need to look out for the dangers of the wilderness, do we?  And, I hate to be critical, but the brain's evolutionary abilities are really, really, slow.  So, it is paying attention to a whole lot of scary, negative stuff and that stuff is really not helping us live healthier and longer.

What that means is that if you have negativity swirling around up there most of the time - critical thoughts, judgement, patterns of detrimental thinking, (need I go on?), then you need to retrain your brain toward positivity.  Your brain is up there paying attention to what sucks about your day and it is getting better and better at it each day, because you are literally practicing negativity.  Again, if you read my blog often, you know this: the brain gets better at whatever it is you practice and do.  The more you do it, the better the brain gets at it.  A gratitude practice is training the brain to get better at paying attention to and thinking about the good stuff.

So, let's get started:

Breathe:  Lie on a roller, as in the photo.  If you don't have a roller, you can roll up an extra yoga mat or a
blanket, or some pillows and create a position like in the photo.  Knees are together and feet are wider than the hips.  This position relaxes the hip area and the psoas muscle.  Let you arms rest with your palms up.  Inhale and fill the chest with the breath.  Exhale and relax into the shoulder blades - opening the front of the body.  This is one of those exercises I call an "anti-slumper."  Good for breathing, good for posture, good for feeling more positive.  Slumping actually makes us feel less positive.  Try it.  Slump, then stand tall and see how each feels.

Meditate:  You can do this meditation in the above position or any comfortable position.  I think it is a great meditation to do right before sleep, while lying in bed.  We often lie in bed thinking of things we regret about the day or all of the things we have to do the following day.  How about going to bed with a positive mindset?  First off, you have to decide:  Is this a gratitude practice?  Or, maybe it is about love or happiness or something else.  Bring to mind something or some things or someone that makes you feel the feeling.  Play it like a movie in your mind.  Let the feeling grow and stay with it as long as you like.  Your mind will wander, maybe even get critical.  Don't react, don't get frustrated, just come back to your movie, come back to your feeling of gratitude (or other).  If it is before bed, you will fall asleep to positive thoughts!

Relax:  Progressive relaxation is the most common method of relaxation.  It is easy to do and requires no guidance, but if you really want to be guided or get a better idea of what it is, here is a video.  Lie down and go through each part of your body, either toes up or head down and make sure each part is relaxed.  You could tighten and release the muscles in each area or just give them a shake or a wiggle to relax.  Inhale to tighten, exhale to release.  In this version, however, add gratitude or appreciation.  Say, "I am grateful" for each area of the body.  And be grateful!  Might seem weird to send gratitude to your toes, but I guarantee, if you hurt your toe or lose your toe, it will not be pleasant.  So, let's not take anything for granted!

Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  Cognitive therapies are all about changing your thinking.  I already covered the need for the change and how the brain does that negative thing above.  Moving on..... get a journal or some paper for this exercise.  The reason is that writing is a whole different part of the brain than thinking or talking.  Writing is the motor part of the brain,  If we get multiple areas of the brain involved in a practice, it sticks!  So, daily get out your journal or your paper and write down what you are grateful for (see photo).  Or, write "this is what I loved about today..." Or, "What was amazing today?" Or, "What went well today?"  Your question, your words, your focus - just make it positive!  Could be one thing or 20 things, just write.

Power Pose:  Warrior I pose is a favorite pose of mine and this photo by Candace is full of great cues to get it right.  Hold your hands at your heart to feel gratitude expand with the power of the pose!

Affirmation:  You gotta do it.  People feel awkward, silly, and even resistant to affirmations.  Really?  If you can't affirm yourself, then you will be looking around outside yourself for validation and I promise you, that is not the best source.  Plus, it is totally exhausting to do so.  Write this affirmation down and put it somewhere that you will see regularly.  Say it out loud regularly.  Look at yourself in the mirror and say it to yourself regularly.  Is the regularly part clear? It's important - see above for that whole bit about practice.  Choose an affirmation from this list or make one up yourself.

Chant: Ommmmm.... is a very powerful chant for bringing all creatures and beings into a mindset of love and acceptance.  This is a variation on Om that makes for more space within, because the tone and the feeling it creates in the body changes as the sound and tone changes.  Make Om into 3 syllables or tones:  AhhhhhhOhhhhhhMmmmmmmmm.........repeat.

Find positivity by practicing the above 7 skills as often as possible.  You have to train the mind and body into new patterns!  Contact me with comments or questions:  tammysytsma@circleofstoneswellness.com OR check out the services on my website for info. about individual sessions and group sessions offered.  circleofstoneswellness.com

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Feeling Lonely, Unfulfilled in Your Relationships? Ways to Deepen Your Connection to Others

In a world of billions, many of us feel lonely.  In our own households and work places, surrounded by people, we feel separate and removed.  The social part of us is now believed to be an innate, survival mechanism that is incredibly important in mental health and physical health.  Yes, it is true that people with good social connections and enough intimacy and support, get sick less.  Mainly because it is
stressful to feel alone.  It is stressful to feel like there is no one at your side, supporting you, comforting you, laughing and sharing with you.  Stress equates to lower immune system function among many other systems that get turned down when stress hormones are floating around in our bodies.  So, it is in our best interests to cultivate stronger connections with others for both physical and mental health reasons.

While it is true that others in our world can cause feelings that contribute to our feeling lonely and unsupported, loneliness is basically an internal concept that requires internal work and healing.  Some of the work might be external, but the internal work is most important for feeling connected to others, because asking for, no, requiring what you need in relationships and being vulnerable emotionally is your job.  And, being strong enough to be vulnerable and be strong means you need to start with self.  Here's how:

Breathe:  If you visualize someone who is disconnected, alone, standing off as a wallflower in a crowded room, notice the posture.  The posture is closed, hunched forward.  This kind of posture limits the breath, because the muscles and structures that allow us to breathe are squashed by the closed off posture.
Try it.  Hunch over, breathe as full a breath as possible and exhale it out.  Now, sit upright and breathe as full a breath as possible.  Much better!  Pay attention to your breathing posture throughout the day.  Improved breath will link to improved mood, improved mood will link to improved breath and both will mean more confidence and self-assurance! This is your first step in creating the internal change needed for your external connections.

Meditate:  Loving-kindness meditation can take many forms as far as words go.  The true Buddhist wording of the script can be intimidating to those not studying Buddhism.  However, there are other more secular phrases available as in this example and guide:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77MgkADxcyk  The benefit of choosing this meditation is that it begins with self, before moving on to others.  The compassion and love begins with self.  If you can create a strong, compassionate connection to self, then moving on to others is less daunting and more genuine.  The connections you create with others are real and fulfilling when you begin with self.

Relax:  When you settle in to relax, how about adding some compassion?  Lie down comfortably in a relaxed pose. Then, as you relax each area of the body, say, "I love and appreciate this area of my body."  If this feels weird, do it anyway!  We are very capable of sending messages of disgust, rejection, and displeasure to parts of our bodies.  Time to improve on the positive side, with feelings of appreciation and acceptance.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  What messages are sending in your mind throughout the day?  Are they encouraging you to make connections?  Are these messages empowering?  Are the messages kind?  If the patterns of thought you engage in during the day continue to make you feel lonely and disconnected from others, or make you feel unable to set the boundaries and requirements for more fulfilling relationships, then it is time to change them.

Think of these discouraging and disempowering thoughts as recordings that have power behind them.  Each time one comes up, disempower it by creating good posture, take a good breath (see above) and say a new message/thought.  Every time you do this, you begin the process of weakening those recorded thoughts and you change them to healthier thoughts that will help you to create better connections with those around you.

Power Pose:  Goddess pose is a variation on Temple pose.  The power of the pose
is very evident.  Start with the legs and add the arms last.  Your feet are turned out about 45 degrees.  Your knees are going to be bent directly over your ankles, so place your feet at a width that feels do-able.  Hold your pelvis straight up and down.  You do this by tilting the tailbone straight to the floor.  Now, lift the low abdominal muscles.  This lift feels like what you do when you have to urinate (lovely yoga language, eh?), but you stop the flow of urine and hold.  This muscle is your power source!  Now. place your hands palms together in front of your heart and slowly open them out to the position pictured, still holding strong in the lower abdominal region.  As you hold, add the affirmation given below.

Affirmation:  "I am strongly connected to and compassionate with myself and with others."

Chant:  Use this chant to deepen your connection to all - self and others.  "Ham-sa" Pronounced as "Hum-sah"  It is not always necessary to say it out loud, but the benefits of sound make it worthwhile to so.

Find deeper connections by practicing the above 7 skills as often as possible.  You have to train the mind and body into new patterns!  Contact me with comments or questions: tammysytsma@circleofstoneswellness.com  OR check out the services on my website for info. about individual sessions and group sessions offered.  circleofstoneswellness.com

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fully Aware = Fully Happy! Here's How to Use Awareness for Good Mental Health

Many times when life is difficult, we disconnect, we avoid, we become less aware.  Because, difficulties are painful, uncomfortable, and not at all enjoyable.  It makes sense.  However, the best way for difficult situations and emotions to become easier is not through avoidance.  It is by leaning in, fully aware and fully invested.  Because so many of us avoid and disconnect, we go through our days completely unaware of many aspects of what is going on in the body and in the mind and in the communication the two are having.  We eat, even if we're not hungry.  We put things in our bodies, even though they make us feel awful later.  We spend time on screens that result in terrible sleep patterns.  We walk through the day thirsty and have no idea what that feeling of malaise is caused by.  We allow thoughts that are detrimental and exhausting to go through our heads willy nilly with no regulation.  And, we stuff emotions deep down and distract ourselves with busy tasks, so they stay down there.

Avoiding, stuffing, and disconnecting create unhealthy patterns that the brain and the body begin to follow until you feel overwhelmed by poor mental health and/or physical health symptoms and have to face them. This can all be remedied early on with awareness.  Leaning in to whatever you are feeling when things are great, when things are neutral and especially when things are difficult, is the best way to regulate the processes of the mind and body AND create more contentment, pleasure and joy in your life.

1.  Breathe:  Awareness of the breath is a powerful tool, easily at the ready anytime, anywhere.  Think about the unconscious space the breath is usually in - you don't think about it, it just happens.  Often that means the breath is shallow.  Very few of us unconsciously breathe deep, full breaths.  This is a problem, because the deep, full breath is the breath that communicates relaxing and releasing.  So, we need to make the breath more conscious.  Stop regularly throughout your day and breathe full breaths into the belly, exhaling out long and slow for at least 4 rounds, it takes about 1 minute to do this.  Try a minimum of twice a day, but do more, if possible.

2.  Meditate:  Meditation is awareness - awareness of the present.  Awareness of this moment in time and not the past and not the future.  A really lovely and easy way to connect to the present moment is to sit comfortably, relax into the rhythm of the breath, and as you breathe, say these words:  "I breathe in present moment, I breathe out this is a wonderful moment."  Allow a slight smile to form on your face.  This smile is the most relaxing muscular position for the face, but it also signals to the brain to send out a wave of contentment to the body.  When your mind wanders off to some future worry or task, some thought or story, some past regret or sorrow, come back to "present moment, wonderful moment."

3.  Relax:  Progressive relaxation is a very common exercise that teaches awareness of the tension held in the body.  We all have habitual muscle tension - a shoulder that creeps up, shoulder and neck muscles that become hard as rock, low back aches due to tension in hips, etc.  We aren't even aware it is there until it is so uncomfortable, it can no longer be ignored.  The tension in the body communicates to the brain that something is not ok and the brain communicates to the body to be on alert.  Back and forth go these messages and soon it is just a pattern and the question which came first -the thought or the tension no longer matters.  This exercise takes us through the muscle groups of the body, creating tension, then releasing it.  Try it anytime, but it is especially helpful before sleep.  This video guide will take you through just 7 1/2 minutes of the yoga practice Savasana, which commonly uses the progressive relaxation technique.

4.  Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  For this exercise, you will need a rubber band, a hair band, or a watch or bracelet that can be easily moved from one wrist to the other.  As mentioned earlier, we often go through the day unaware of the thinking patterns that are running around in our minds willy nilly.  When we do become aware, we are uncomfortable or even made miserable by their detrimental effects.  In an effort to create awareness AND change, we will begin the day with the band on the right wrist.  Each time you catch yourself having a negative or unwanted thought, move the band to the other wrist.  Target which thoughts you want to be aware of.  For example, you might want to be aware of thoughts that are critical of self.  When you catch a critical thought, move the band to the other wrist and say something either to oppose the thought or to let go of it. Keep going back and forth whenever you are aware of the negative thinking.  Continue for days, weeks, months, until you have eliminated the thought.

5.  Power Pose:  Mountain pose does not look like much is going on, but that is what is so important this guide to be aware of the points in the body that allow for a strong, balanced standing position.
about it.  Just standing is never just standing - we want to stand with strength, balance, and ease.   Use this guide to learn the cues for mountain pose.

6.  Affirm:  Since awareness means being present and knowing what is happening right now, we really need to understand why that has power.  Yes, it is important to understand and study the past for insight and learning.  Yes, it is important to plan for the future to set goals and dream.  Being present does not negate these.  When you set aside time to look at the past, then look at the past.  Don't let thoughts about the past take over when you are in the middle of other tasks.  When you set aside time to look at your dreams and set goals, that is the time to let those dreams come to mind, not when you are busy with current activities.  The reason is that it makes for poor effort in the present and the present is what actually creates the future.  Example, the present is unpleasant.  Life just is not what you would like it to be, so you spend time dreaming about the future and ways things could be better.  And, you spend time looking back with sadness and regret at the past.  Now, you are better at regret and you are better at dreaming.  But, you are not better at acting on what needs getting done right now.  What you practice, your brain gets better at doing!  So, affirm:  "All that I desire in my life is created in my actions and thoughts right now.  In the present, I create my future and I release my past."

7.  Chant:  We all know how to hum, right?  Who knew humming was also healing?  In today's exercise, hum at various keys.  You don't have to know what those keys are, just start low, hum, breathe in, hum a bit higher, breathe in, hum a bit higher, keep going.  As you are humming, feel the vibration inside you, where is it?  It will change as you change your pitch.  You might even find the perfect pitch for your peace of mind!

Change your life by practicing the above 7 skills - every day!  Contact me with comments or questions:  tammysytsma@circleofstoneswellness.com  OR check out the services on my website - there might be something there perfect for your needs!  circleofstoneswellness.com

Tammy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Yoga Therapist.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Need to Clear Out Old Patterns and Start New? Try These Practices!

In yoga we talk about Samskara as actions taken to clear out the old and bring in the new.  Sometimes we say we want something in our lives to change, but there is actually not space for that to happen.  Maybe there needs to be physical space, mental space, emotional space, or all three in order to get something new in place.  Think of the goal of getting in better health:  make space in the pantry for healthy choices, make space in the schedule for exercise, and make space in your mind for a new routine and a new way of approaching meals, the body, and daily life.  That is what a renewal practice is all about.

The body and the mind are set up to follow patterns.  Everything we do in a day is a pattern the mind and the body have been trained to do.  Don't take this amazing fact for granted!  How hard would it be to brush your teeth if you had to think about every movement, if you had to calculate the aim of the brush getting to your mouth, even all the actions needed to spit?  The brain and the body have memories that keep all of this so easy for us.  But, these same patterned ways are sometimes detrimental.  In these instances it is really hard to change the pattern.  The first step, however, is to make space - clear out the old and make space for the new!  It is a process.  It takes patience and time to retrain the patterns, so be kind, be aware, and be persistent.

1)  Breathe:  The breath is always a great tool for change, because the automatic processes of the system are called into conscious thought.  In other words, they become less automatic.  Use the breath to be aware of the processes you want to bring in and those you want to release.  Inhale through the nose, thinking of what you want to bring in as a pattern/habit.  Exhale loudly through the mouth "haaaaaa" thinking of what you want to release.  For example, "breathing in, I bring in patience and compassion, breathing out, I release frustration and impatience."

2)  Meditate:  A great way to make a habit become active is to get the brain ready.  Get the pattern set in the brain and your actions and behaviors will then more easily follow.  Sports psychologists use this all the time:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/23/sports/olympics/olympians-use-imagery-as-mental-training.html?_r=0  The brain changes to accommodate the imagery you create.  We will take it further with this meditation.  We will use imagery, words, and feelings to change your brain in the direction of your new pattern.  In this meditation, you imagine your new way of being.  Then, you feel what it would feel like.  Then, you create words to match and encourage the feeling.  Try it with help from this video.

3)  Relax:  Patterns are not just what we think and how the nervous system reacts.  We have muscle and structural patterns.  We have temperature and other regulation patterns in the body.  The brain and the body and all of these systems are continually communicating about these patterned processes.  Brain/body communication is just beginning to be an area of research.  We don't know a whole lot.  But, we do know that the bio-chemicals and neuro-transmitters in the body are doing alot of the communication.  We can affect some of these communicators!

Lie down and get comfortable and decide how you want to feel.  Maybe today's pattern has been to run around from one busy task to the next.  Maybe you woke up feeling anxious and that anxiety has not left. The communication so far has been cortisol, epinephrine, adrenaline.  Choose a new feeling.  Think of things, places, people that make you feel what you are choosing to feel.  Then, imagine those neuro-transmitters flowing through your body (this really does happen!).  Imagine each cell from the tips of your toes to the top of your head feeling this new feeling.  You are changing the communicators from cortisol and his friends to maybe a nice mix of serotonin and dopamine or a bit of oxytocin.

4)  Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  Thought patterns are really strong.  People tend to give up on changing them pretty quickly.  We have this deep belief in free will - if I decide to change, I should
change.  If I can't, then it must be that my willpower is not strong enough.  This belief makes change incredibly hard.  The decision to change is really important, but then the efforts toward actually making the change need to be routine and regular, patient and persistent.  Not because you don't have free will, but because the brain and the body need you to train them into the new pattern!  It's not just a decision, it's a process.

Begin by being aware of what you are saying to yourself now.  Take one or two negative things you are saying and begin to make the effort to change those to something more encouraging.  For example, "I am just _____________ (fill it in) and I will always be _______________"  Not helping and not true.  You have no idea what you will be in the future, but certainly your actions will follow your thoughts and if your thoughts are saying you will always be ______________, then, yep, you probably will.  Change the negative thoughts as often as you catch them in your head throughout the day,  Do this for months.  Yes, months.  That is how long it will take to change the persistent strength of brain patterns.  Be patient.  Be persistent.

5)  Power Pose:  Let's go back to the research on power posing.  Yes, there are questions about it's efficacy.  I'm willing to wait the researchers out, because Power Posing is so darn easy and takes so little time and because it seems so plausible.
 If I want to feel really confident, I tend to wear what makes me feel confident in myself.  If I need to feel comfortable, I do the same.  Not to mention that the idea of "fake it 'til you make it" is a real thing.  Go back to patterns.  How you stand reflects how you feel.  So, practice standing strong, confident or whatever it is you are trying to feel.  Do "as if" until you DO.

6)  Affirm:  Repeat, hang it somewhere easily read, say it out loud to yourself in the mirror (really!), and respond to denials in your thinking with this:  "Today I choose to believe in and experience my strong, motivated, and capable Self."

7)  Chant:  This chant has a lot of syllables.  Syllables that are not familiar to many of those reading.  But, it is worth the effort to learn.  It is a mantra for new beginnings.  Om Vinayakaya Namaha (Om Vee-nah-yah Kah-yah Nah-mah-hah).

Put your practice into place regularly and you'll soon feel that clearing out of old patterns.  Then, you have room for those new patterns of thought and behavior.  Contact me at: tammysytsma@circleofstoneswellness.com  OR check out my website or Facebook page for more information and guidance!  circleofstoneswellness.com

Friday, October 14, 2016

Get Centered!

"Go in and in.  Be the space between two cells. The vast, resounding silence in which spirit dwells."
 This is an excerpt from a poem by Danna Faulds.  It is hard to explain what it means to be centered.  Yes, maybe it is about spirit.  Maybe it is about space.  The benefit for mental health is that it is certainly a way to be disconnected from the external world and reconnected with the internal.  It feels less chaotic, less splintered and more complete, whole.  It feels stable, controlled, while at the same time ethereal.  In the poem, she uses the words, ecstatic, infinite, essence.  Yes, all of those.  Want to experience it?  Here's how:

1) Breathe:  The breath is a great tool for centering.  It is necessary to begin the process of centering.  Begin at the tip of your nose.  Here you can feel the breath go in, cool and dry.  Follow the breath through the nasal passages, down the wind pipe to your center space.  Repeat as many times as necessary.  Let the breath travel deeper and deeper until you feel connected to your center.

2)  Meditate:  The meditation and the breath go together.  Once you get to center through the breathing, stay there.  Wherever you imagine your center to be, stay there after however many breaths it takes.  When your mind wanders away, and it will, bring it back by following the breath inward once again.  Then, stay centered, disconnected from the busy-ness of the brain, the noise and activity of the external world.

3)  Relax:  The relaxation exercise combines the breath and the meditation.  Lie down comfortably with arms at your sides - in savasana pose, as in the picture.  Now breathe in toward center as
described above and get settled in your center space.  Stay there.  As you keep your awareness on this spiritual center, let go of your physical awareness.  So, your extremities begin to fade from your awareness and the power of center grows and expands, like the core of a bright star.  Let that energy radiate outward.

4)  Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  We tend to connect strongly to our thoughts.  Every thought, no matter how silly it might be, no matter how lacking in reality, has power, just because it is in the mind.  We give credence to our thoughts rather than treating them as what they are - patterns, recordings that have been put there.  The mind is not a truth creator.  It is a pattern maker and follower.  If your thoughts are causing you pain, then you need to change the patterns of your thoughts.  Practicing the centering meditation, decreases the power of our thoughts.  We disconnect from them and place our focus and therefore our power in center.  If you practice this exercise regularly, you will gradually find that when a painful thought pops into mind, you can place it aside.  Our thoughts should not control us, but we control the thoughts.

5)  Power Pose:  The power of temple pose comes from center.  In this pose, you need to think of
internal muscles in the lower abdomen.  These muscles are neglected, but incredibly important to structural physical health.  Lift the pelvic floor - think of needing to urinate and stop it - that's the muscle.  Additionally, get the transversus abdominus involved by pushing the space between the hip bones and lower back toward your tail bone.  This strong center space is your strong physical center. Once it is engaged, move your arms - left and stretch, but keep the lower abdominal area strong. Use this strength from now on throughout the day.

6)  Affirmation:  Start your day with this affirmation.  Write it down and carry it with you as a reminder not to let the storm clouds take over.  "When I seek what I think I want and need outside myself, my days are fog and storminess; when I sit in my center, my days are clear and calm."

7) Chant:  The most centering chant is "Om"  Say the chant as "Ahhhhhh....ohhhhhhh....mmmmmm"  These sounds are very calming and make us feel connected to spirit - to center.

Practice the above 7 skills as often as possible to change the patterns of your mind, body, and spirit and support good mental health.  Contact me with comments or questions: tammysytsma@circleofstoneswellness.com  OR check out the services on my website for info. about individual sessions and group sessions offered.  circleofstoneswellness.com

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Feeling Powerless? Your Inner Power is There! 7 Ways to Find Your Inner Power Source

Empowerment can be a societal and cultural process.  But, without personal empowerment, all the cultural and societal efforts we can muster will be meaningless.  Feeling personally empowered
means to have trust and faith in your own abilities to regulate your emotions, choose your reactions to the world around you, and find ways to create the life you want to create for yourself.  Personal power creates resiliency.  With a sense of personal power and some societal and/or cultural supports in place, success, happiness, and community are possible!

Empowerment does not mean the kind of dictatorship-like power we often see exemplified in society.  This is not real internal power. It is a forced, tyrannical power that benefits no one.  Internal power has trust, faith, empathy, and knowledge of self.  This, in turn, creates benefit to all.  Time to get in touch with your internal power source!

1)  Breathe:  The 3 part breath is the best breath for many learning and using self-regulation successfully.  In this breath, you first breathe fully into the belly which is also known as belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing.  Then, expand the breath into the lower part of the lungs and then up to the collar bones.  The most challenging part is to get used to releasing the breath from the top down - collar bones, rib cage, belly.  Here is a guide:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohoW8mdi07w&feature=youtu.be

2)  Meditate:  Jon Kabat-Zinn included this meditation in his book Wherever You Go There You
Are.  It is meant to create a sense of inner power.  It is a short 5 minutes and once you practice it for - 5-7 days, you can then invoke the feeling it creates at anytime.  The goal is to train your brain, your nervous system and your body to connect to this feeling and the more you connect, the more powerful you feel!  Here is your guide:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTKY2BWV05Y

3)  Relax:  Circle of power relaxation: This technique can be used from a seated position or lying down.  Imagine a circle drawn around you.  When I am seated I refer to this as my hula hoop space.  Within this circle you are in charge of the energy - nothing comes in and nothing goes out, unless you allow it.  Fill the circle with calm, relaxing energy.  Fill the circle with peace.  Imagine that as you breathe, you are breathing in the peace.  Also, your skin is soaking in the peace.  Every cell in your body is filling with calm relaxing energy.  Stay with this for as long as you want.

4)  Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  Use the above skill set - imagine yourself in a circle of power - or within your hula hoop space.  Remember, you are in charge of what you allow in or out from that space.  Decide what energy to fill it with - confidence, strength, joy, faith.  Anything you choose can fill the circle.  Then, breathe in the energy and soak in the energy.  Do this often and train your systems to feel the way you are choosing to feel.

5)  Power Pose:  Warrior poses are good poses for connecting to inner strength.  In this series, 3 warrior poses are combined in a strong flow sequence.  It is short, but powerful, so try it!

6)  Affirm:  Combine this affirmation with the above breathing technique and/or the meditation for an even more powerful practice!  "I am strong and powerful.  I am confident and capable.  I have an infinite source of power within."

7)  Chant:  The 2 chants ham-sa and so-ham both mean "I am."  But, they work in different energetic directions.  So-ham (pronounced so-hum) is relaxing while ham-sa (hum-sah) is energizing.  For a greater sense of power and strength, practice ham-sa.

Find your inner power source by practicing the above 7 skills as often as possible.  You have to train the mind and body into new patterns!  Contact me with comments or questions: tammysytsma@circleofstoneswellness.com  OR check out the services on my website for info. about individual sessions and group sessions offered.  circleofstoneswellness.com

Friday, September 23, 2016

Can't Stick to That Commitment? Here's How!

The way commitments and goals usually work is that we look outside ourselves toward models of an ideal we'd like to reach - an outfit we'd like to lose enough weight to wear well, an event or race we'd like to be in shape to compete in, a type of house or car we'd like to earn enough to own.  There is nothing wrong with these at all.  In fact this type of ideal can be very motivating.  It's just that it's not enough. It's like trying to purchase a ticket to a foreign country, knowing exactly where you want to go, but not actually knowing where you are leaving from.

Yogis talk about the idea of "playing your edge" or "finding your edge."  Edge is the perfect concept to incorporate into commitment making for more success.  Having an ideal to look toward can get us up and moving when our normal patterns are to not move so much.  They can cause us to consider and make foods we never would have tried and lose a few pounds.  They can get us through that difficult training course that will make us eligible for the promotion.  But, as we all know, they might not.  Or, they might motivate us to do those things for a while, but we can't stick with it.  We fall back to the old ways and when that external motivator goes away, we no longer get moving, cook healthy meals, or seek to improve ourselves professionally.  What we need to stick with it is edge.

We need a sense of awareness - this is the starting point, what the mind and the body are able to do now.  We also need compassion.  Knowing where you are beginning from and being really kind and respectful of that starting line. Then, you focus on your goal, your ideal, without losing track of what's going on inside.  When we ignore the body's needs in order to power through the diet or power through the event, the reward system doesn't feel rewarded.  For a while the brain is like, "Hell yah! I really am enjoying this new stuff we're doing!"  But, novelty wears off in 3-5 weeks and those ingrained patterns of mind and body, come back.  Our systems like those patterns.  Without the reward of gentleness, kindness, and respect through mindful awareness, those old patterns always return.

So, how do we do this commitment thing?  How do we set and reach our goals successfully and stay there?  It's a balance of the external ideal and the internal awareness that keeps you compassionate and kind toward yourself.  It's edge.  Here's how to find your edge:

1. Breathe: Remember that the breath has this really awesome duality that allows it to be an unconscious function as well as a conscious function.  When we breathe on purpose in a certain way with awareness, we bring the breath to the conscious parts of the brain.  When we are going about the day or sleeping, the breath just happens, it becomes an automatic function the body does without your conscious awareness.  So what?  Well, if you begin to breathe consciously here and there throughout the day, you will bring an awareness into the day that will show you what is going on in the body and the mind - you will know you are tense, you will know you are hungry, you will know you are over-thinking, you will know you are craving......And, with practice, you will begin to know what to do to relieve these feelings in a healthy, respectful of your body and your goals, way.  So, set your watch, phone, computer, alarm for 3-5 times a day.  Stop when it goes off and pause to breathe on purpose with awareness for 1 minute.  Be aware of the body, the mind, the spirit - whatever comes up.

2.  Meditate:  Instead of thinking meditation is about emptying the mind, think of it as filling the mind.  But, my mind is already full you say?!  Yep, that is the problem.  Mindful meditation means filling the mind with something you choose.  It is training the mind, so you have more choice and more control over your thoughts and patterns.  Choose a focus - some space in your body to be aware of - can be a part that is painful, or a part you often feel negatively toward, or choose the heart or the breath.  You can place your hand there and close your eyes.  Feel that space, hear it (if there is a sound) - fill your mind with that part of your body.  Your mind will wander away, distracted by a sound or a thought or a memory.  It might do that 100 times.  It's ok!!  Every time your mind wanders, bring it back to your focus.  The more you do that, the better you get at focusing.

3. Relax:  Progressive relaxation is a common way to end a yoga class and it is used often to teach people how to relax.  The reason it is so effective is that we are so unaware of tension in the body.  It becomes the norm and we do not realize it is there.  Progressive relaxation teaches us to know where tension is and how to release it.  A daily practice before bed can be very effective for sleep as well. Here is a guide:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyauYKLdWfE

4. Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  Awareness is a key component to success with CBT.  We are not even aware of how our thoughts are creating failure.  Set your goal, make your commitment, create your intention.  Now, write it down somewhere prominent - on a mirror, a door, the refrigerator, somewhere you will see it on a regular basis.  Every time you see it, ask yourself, how am I feeling about my goal at this moment?  If you are feeling pretty down and hopeless about it, acknowledge that. Here is a sample conversation to then have with yourself:  "Ok, I am not feeling very hopeful today.  Today is a hard day.  I am going to have hard days.  Not every day is going to be awesome.  Tomorrow will be better."  If you look at that goal and feel pretty great about it, then try something like this:  "I am feeling great!  I can do this!  I am strong, I am capable, I can and will get through this challenge!"  Acknowledge the feelings, encourage yourself, and reward good days with positivity and further motivation.  Even on bad days, reward yourself with kind words.

5.  Power Pose:   The perfect pose for understanding edge is the forward fold.  In a forward fold, you only go as far as your hips, hamstrings, and calves will stretch.  When you get to the furthest point of the stretch, there is your edge.  The sweet spot of the stretch.  No strain, no pain, just the perfect place. Here is a guide:  http://www.yogajournal.com/pose/head-to-knee-forward-bend/  The last part of the guide has the perfect reminder: "The lower belly should touch the thighs first, the head last."  If your belly doesn't get there, stay upright.  Use your breath - calm state of being in the stretch.  Focus on the low back, the hamstrings and the calf muscle to make sure you are feeling only a hamstring and/or calf stretch. Settle in and enjoy.

6.  Affirm:  My mind and my body are calm (take a breath), I am focused, I am able. I am patient and I am kind toward myself on this journey.

7.  Chant:  So Hum.  This chant means "I am."  If you prefer, you can chant I am instead.  Use it to cultivate awareness of where you are in mind, body, and spirit, right now, in the present.

Change your life by practicing the above 7 skills as often as possible.  You have to train the mind and body into new patterns!  Contact me with comments or questions: tammysytsma@circleofstoneswellness.com  OR check out the services on my website for info. about individual sessions and group sessions offered.  circleofstoneswellness.com

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Change Your Focus! Change Your Life!

Yoga teachers often teach about Drishti - an area of focus in a pose or practice.  Often, it is where you place your eyes.  Where your eyes go, your mind follows....Distracted by what's going on out the window?  By the cat hair on your pants? The mind is no longer aware fully of the body or the breath.  It has wandered off, distracted.  But, Drishti can also be about focusing on a muscle or a part of the body in the pose.  This can intensify your awareness of what you are doing with your body and it brings the mind and the body together.  Now, you have conscious control over what the mind is attending to.

Think of how this could benefit life off the yoga mat.  Where is your focus at any given time during the day?  While in a meeting, your mind wanders to the grocery list.  While talking to your kid, your mind wanders back to an uncomfortable conversation with a co-worker.  While driving, your eyes wander to your phone and you almost ram into the car in front of you.  Or, you spend your day focused on a really anxiety-provoking, difficult conversation you need to have and the day is a cluster or frustration, stress, forgetfulness, and tension.  

What you focus on, determines the direction of the day, and ultimately the direction of your life.  So, choose your focus.  Choose where you place your eyes, your ears, your thoughts.  Your brain will continue to unconsciously make some of these choices for you, but the more you decide to gain control over your focus, the more control you will have over your life.  Today we have 7 ways to increase your ability to choose your focus.

1. Breathe:  Viloma breath is a very good focus breath.  It helps with focus, because there is so much change from the natural in and out rhythm of the breath.  Your mind has to pay attention in order to follow the breathing technique.  Often it is taught in a reclined or lying down position, but sitting is fine as well.  Start with a full exhale.  Then, inhale for as long as it takes you to say "inhale" in your mind. Don't exhale!  Hold the breath for as long as it takes to say "hold" in your mind.  Then, inhale again.  Then, hold again.  Do this 4x total.  After the fourth time, take a full, smooth exhale and begin the process again. Practice 4-5 rounds and you might feel more able to focus on whatever task is at hand.  Use the breath again anytime you find yourself unable to focus on a task.

2. Meditate:  This is a sensory focus exercise. Your brain can pay attention to many things, but consciously you are only able to hold about 5-7 of these things in your awareness.  In this exercise, the goal is to be aware of and focused on 1 of the senses at a time.  Your brain will still be aware of more than 1 sense.  However, you let the others fall off into the background as you engage only in one sensory experience at a time.  Begin with soft eyes, so you can see through your lids.  Try to keep your mind engaged only on what you see - light, shape, shadow, etc. Let the other senses fade off into the background.  Then, switch to smell.  Taking in full breaths through the nose, notice any smells around you, ignoring the other senses vying for your attention.  Next, is taste.  Just a swallow or two and you can stimulate your sense of taste, ignoring the other senses.  When you get to hearing, start with sounds furthest away from you and gradually bring your focus inward to the sound of your breath.  Finally, the sense of touch.  Notice open spaces on the skin, spaces with clothing covering, and spaces touching something.  From there, try to be aware of deeper sensations under the skin, focused on what you feel internally.  Do this exercise slowly and take 10+ minutes.  Or, go quickly through each as a quick check-in with your body.

3.  Relax:  Lying down is obviously the best way to practice relaxation, but this exercise can also be done seated, just to identify and loosen tension areas during your day.  Focus on your feet, wiggle them around, create tension by pointing your toes and then relaxing the tension.  Do the same for each area of the body, moving up to the scalp at the top of the head.  This exercise can also be done in bed - lights out.  As you focus on each area of the body say, "My feet are sleepy."  Etc. By the time you get to your head, hopefully you are asleep!

4.  Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  This is a true training the brain exercise.  Let's say you are making dinner, chopping vegetables, boiling water, reading a recipe, etc.  Every time your mind gets distracted from the dinner tasks and is thinking instead of work, or a phone call you need to make, or something someone said, tell yourself, "No, I am not focusing on that right now."  Then, bring it back to the task at hand.  Don't get frustrated with yourself, each time your mind wanders and you bring it back, it's a bicep curl for the brain! 

5. Power Pose:  One of the most popular images of a balance pose is tree pose.  It is a great pose for focus, because you can get yourself into the position and then make small changes in the arms, but remain focused and balanced throughout.  In the images, all 3 have the foot placed up on the thigh in the groin area, but you can put the foot on your lower calf as well.  Just do not put the foot on the knee!  Begin with the first arm position, then lower the arms to the second and third positions and hold the pose throughout.

6. Affirmation:  Affirmations are actually a form of cognitive behavior therapy.  However, they are a really nice tool to set a daily intention and bring yourself back to it all day long with focused-awareness.  Say an affirmation something like this:  "I will use the power of my focus to lead my mind in a direction of my choosing.  I will stay focused on things that bring encouragement and joy into my life."  Change the affirmation as needed.  Set it as a reminder on your phone.  Hang it in a conspicuous place in your home or office or both.

7.  Chant:  Find an instrument that plays a sound - a piano, guitar, bell, singing bowl.  Make the sound and lightly hum through the sound.  Repeat multiple times, focused on the sound and matching your own humming sound to it as best you can.

Change your life focus by practicing the above 7 skills - every day!  Contact me with comments or questions: tammysytsma@circleofstoneswellness.com  OR check out the services on my website - there might be something there perfect for your needs!  circleofstoneswellness.com

Tammy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Yoga Therapist.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Finding Clarity!

I remember a day when a client I was working with, a client with severe addiction and trauma issues, said she was ready to find clarity in her life.  That's really the goal isn't it?  She was seeking to clear out the patterns of addiction, of thinking that supported her criminal behavior, of severe anxiety due to trauma....She wanted all of it gone and instead be full of clear space to create a new life for herself - a life without addiction, where she felt safe and worthwhile and capable.  That is what we are all seeking - the clearing of patterns in thinking and behavior and the space for new, more supportive, more successful patterns to be formed, isn't it?

This process is, unfortunately, complicated and it takes time, but here are 6 ways to get started.  You have to start somewhere and create a base - a space in which awareness and self-respect are the foundation.

1)  Breathe:  The breath is physically limited to the space in the lungs - and the route it takes to get into the lungs and back out from the lungs.  For the sake of this exercise, however, imagine that your breath has access to all the space in your body - down to your toes, to the tips of your fingers and to the top of your head.  The breath is a cool breeze coming in as you inhale to all the spaces in your body and then as you exhale, imagine it taking out with it anything you need to release - tension, stress, discomfort, tiredness.  Make the breath big enough that it can get to all the spaces in your body.

2)  Meditate:   It is said that the Buddha practiced the Blue Sky Mind meditation.  It is a favorite meditation practice for many in the world.  Here is a very short 4 minute version of the meditation to get you started:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eO3ZjhQQqvg  It includes the breathing technique described above.  Once you get the hang of it, practice it on your own without guidance.

3)  Relaxation:   Usually, we use a physical focus for relaxation.  It can also work to use your mind to help your body relax through visualization.  We can go in either direction - bottom up to relax the body and mind OR - top down to relax the body by using the mind. Knowing that we can do either or both, brings awareness to the fact that mind/body communication goes in both directions. You need to be aware of both!  This exercise uses the visual of a lake or ocean and takes the flowing motion of the water toward stillness, bringing the mind and body to a still space.  So beautifully relaxing!

4)  Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  Complaining of foggy thinking is really common.  There are a lot of causes to feeling a general feeling of fog in the brain - from diet, to sleep, to hormone imbalances, and more.  We can not think our way out of those imbalances, so experiment with changes to your diet, change your sleep habits and pay attention to good sleep hygiene, get hormone levels and Vitamin D checked by a blood test, and/or talk more with your doctor about other possible causes.  In the meantime, this unconventional cognitive/behavioral technique can help: Stand up, breath full, quick inhales and jump in place or do some jumping jacks.  Or, take yourself up and down a couple of flights of stairs.  This will increase the hormones that help us focus, at least temporarily.  Another great technique is to schedule time for exercise in the day before the foggy time of your day kicks in.

5) Power Pose:  Twists are a great clearing tool.  Think of yourself as a dish rag, twisting and wringing out all that needs to be released!  Feel the body massaging into and stimulating spaces and organs that do the work of clearing - the digestive system, the adrenals, the kidneys, liver and the immune system.  Any twist you feel drawn to can work.  Here is Half Lord of the Fishes:
Or, practice a twist right in your chair at your desk: 

6) Chant:  This chant is meant to connect to the brow chakra - to a deeper wisdom, free and clear from the busy conversations in the mind.  Say the vowel sound "oooooo" as in the word two.  Make the note somewhat high - this D note is a good one to use or go higher.

Put your practice into place regularly and you'll soon feel that clearing within.  Then, you have room for those new patterns of thought and behavior.

 Contact me at: tammysytsma@circleofstoneswellness.com  OR check out my website or Facebook page for more information and guidance!  circleofstoneswellness.com

Thursday, September 1, 2016

How Can Connecting to Your Mind, Body and Spirit Make You a Happier Person?

We go through our days unaware of the systems functioning in our bodies. Unaware that the digestive system is working so hard that it uses around 3/4 of the energy it gets from the foods we intake.  Unaware that the nervous system is paying attention through senses and other means to everything around us.  Unaware that the brain is reacting to stimuli and messages from external sources and internal sources of information and communication constantly.  To a great extent, these processes should be unconscious.  If we had to pay attention consciously to everything, it would be completely overwhelming.  However, some of the patterns and some of the habits of mind and body that do happen automatically aren't really serving us so well.  Some examples:  the automaticity of grabbing that piece of candy from the jar during a mid-afternoon slump in energy and focus;  finding yourself creating stories and scenarios in your mind about a co-worker, because your fear of being judged has been triggered; making a mistake and immediately the voices of criticism and judgement begin in your head; feeling a stressful moment and thinking, "I need a cigarette, a drink, a hit."

Because the body and the mind are supposed to do things with automaticity, we take these processes for granted and we believe there is not much to be done.  But there is! Connecting with awareness to the body and knowing what you feel there, what you are sensing, what you are holding in the muscles and joints, can be the first step toward making changes.  Connecting with awareness to the brain and knowing what the brain is attending to, distracted by, focused on, is the first step to stopping cycles and patterns.  And, stopping to take time and connect deeper to spirit, creates the quiet, peaceful, relaxed state that strengthens both mind and body.

1)  Breathe:  The brain is a really complex place.  However, for the sake of simplicity, let's divide the mind conceptually into 2 parts - the survival brain and the conscious brain. Most of the time, the process of breathing is a survival process.  It just happens, you do not have to think about it at all.  But, what happens when you do decide to think about it?  Well, the process of breathing then moves forward into the conscious part of the brain.  Breathing can be both unconscious and conscious.  This means we can use the breath as a tool for creating a better connection between the survival part of the brain and the conscious part of the brain.

It is important and useful to make this connection, because the survival part of the brain can get scary really fast.  It takes normal stressful events and turns them into danger, creating reactions of anxiety and fear that feel completely out of control.  In addition, other aspects of survival like food, sex, and sleep can get really messed up, if the survival brain is set into survival mode by trauma, constant stress and even innocuous life changes.

Mindful breathing means just that - fill your mind with the sensations of the breath. Here's how:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEICpGb1Vy4

2)  Meditate:   Meditation can come in many forms.  When we picture it, we often see a static seated, eyes closed, peaceful position.  But, it can also be dynamic.  With this meditation, you can do a short awareness exercise, taking 2 minutes here and there throughout the day, with great benefit.  Set an alarm or reminder on the phone or computer for 2-3 times a day.  When it goes off, stop what you are doing, close your eyes and connect to your body.  What is happening?  Notice discomfort/comfort, notice hunger/thirst, notice all of the senses.  Scan your body head to toes.  Then, connect to your mind.  What has been going on there?  Is some thought running 'round and 'round?  Is something tugging at your attention?  What about emotions?  What emotions are present? Then, connect to spirit.  How can you bring spirit up for yourself?  Finally, return to the breath.  Breathe in a way that feels comfortable.  

3)  Relaxation:   The chakra system is a system of subtle energies in the body believed to flow from the tip of the tailbone to the crown of the head.  It is not necessary for you to understand or even believe in the chakra energies (no scientific proof they exist) in order to feel the benefits of this relaxation exercise which is meant to create a better connection to self.  The root chakra is foundational energy - feeling grounded, centered, and safe.  The sacral chakra is creative energy - finding meaning and purpose in life.  The solar plexus is energy of self - knowing who you are and that you matter.  The heart is emotional energy - allowing yourself to feel the emotions present.  This guided relaxation exercise is meant to help you connect to these 4 aspects of self.  Practice it here.

4)  Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  We can think of our state of being like a pinball machine - bouncing from one state of mind to another, one mood to another, energy ups and downs, physical discomfort here and there.  How about intentionally trying to create a set point?  Set a daily intention, by beginning the day - before you even get out of bed - intentionally.  For example: "In my body I will feel strong and healthy. In my mind, I will feel patient.  In my spirit, I will create compassion."  Or, something like this:  "On this day, I will be strong and confident in mind, body and spirit."  You can link your intention to the meditation described above, or set a timer or reminder and check on your intention to see if you forgot it, or are still sticking with it throughout the day.  Is your intention still part of your being? Be connected and intentional all day long.

5) Power Pose:  In yoga postures there are many things to think about, but one very important concept is edge.  Edge is how far you can take the pose before it gets too uncomfortable and becomes painful.  It is finding the perfect balance of body respect/awareness and challenge.  We want to challenge, but that challenge needs to have respect for self and awareness of ability first and foremost.  For each of us that line is different. Seated forward fold is a truly perfect posture for understanding edge.  The goal is not to touch your nose to your knees, but to instead, find where and when your hamstrings and calves feel stretch and staying there long enough to encourage more stretch.  Use a belt or a strap to get you there, if you can't reach your toes.  Use a blanket under your sit bones to help the pelvis tilt forward.

What a great metaphor for challenging the mind as well! Instead of wishing you were a certain way in your mind, notice where you are at and guide yourself in the direction you want to go with respect and awareness, inching along toward ever lengthening edge.

6) Chant:  This chant is meant to help balance the third chakra which is the energy of self-awareness and self-worth.  It is the word RAM (pronounced rang).  Inhale a full belly breath, chant rang and repeat 3 or more times.  Feel the note, the vibration at the base of the lungs.

With this practice in place most days of the week, you will find the connection to self growing stronger and from there your self awareness and ability to make changes increases!  

 Contact me at: tammysytsma@circleofstoneswellness.com  OR check out my website or Facebook page for more information and guidance!  circleofstoneswellness.com