Tuesday, July 26, 2016

It's Time to Celebrate YOU! 6 Ways to Make Your Life Better by Celebrating the Awesomeness of You!

It is pretty easy to get lost in the "my life sucks" mindset.  Not only is the brain wired to pay attention to what it is that sucks, but we have a bit of cultural preference for this.  First off, the brain is evolutionarily set up for survival and paying attention to stressors and challenges is part of it's job.  So, unfortunately, it is pretty good at it.  No worries!  The brain can be retrained!  Secondly, our cultural penchant is for the downer Debbie, complainer, gossiper, and caller out of all things negative.  Those that are viewed as wearing rose colored glasses or as too positively Polyanna-like are dismissed and seen as less respectable.

Good mental health, however, needs some celebration.  I am not talking about birthdays and holidays, but EVERYDAYS!  Celebrate your mind, body and spirit on a daily basis and you will find yourself enjoying life.

1)  Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  Every time I suggest the cognitive exercise using rubber bands on the wrists, people are prepared to snap themselves when negative thoughts arise. That is NOT the kind of exercise I propose.  In fact, it does not even need to be rubber bands.  You can wear a watch or a bracelet as well.  Start with the band on the right arm and every time you have a feeling that deserves celebrating take in a full breath, smile, switch the band to the other arm and acknowledge the feeling.  Here’s an example:  I was driving on a very busy 6 lane road.  I saw a woman with bright red shorts and shirt at the bus stop moving and grooving to whatever she had playing in her headphones – just like no one was watching, clearly enjoying herself.  I couldn’t help but smile.  I caught that smile, took in a big breath, carefully switched over the band to the other wrist (safety first), and thought “people are so awesome!”  All the steps in this simple practice get your brain tuned in to these celebratory moments – the movement, the breath, the smile and the thought.

2)  Power Pose:  I love the way crescent lunge makes me feel like I am strong and grounded and yet reaching up with great joy to the sky. 
Hold the pose for 5 breaths and feel the power and joy expand!

3)  Relaxation:
   Do a facial massage before beginning relaxation today.  It takes about 5 minutes and feels great!  Use the technique described here:  http://www.wikihow.com/Give-Yourself-a-Facial-Massage  Then, do the triangle breath described below for 7-10 rounds.  Then, beginning from your toes upward through your body, notice if you are holding any tension, wiggle around, move and release the tension.  Now, your body is relaxed.  Settle in for a minute or 5 minutes with a gentle smile on your face to enjoy and celebrate being relaxed!

4)  Meditate:
   Begin with the triangle breath described below for a couple rounds.  Think of aspects of your physical body you feel good about and celebrate each of them.  Think of aspects of your mind and your feelings that you enjoy
and celebrate those.  Finally, think of aspects of spirit you can celebrate.  The thoughts bring in a feeling.  Keep the feeling in your body, mind, and heart and allow every cell to soak it in.  Stay as long as you can.  The more you practice this, the better your mind and body get at the creating and connecting to the feeling – what fires together, wires together!

5)  Breathe:  The triangle breath has, you guessed it, 3 parts -the inhale, a retention (hold), and exhale.  The length of each is up to you, but it is recommended to begin with 4,7,8.  Let Andrew Weil show you how:  http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/VDR00160/Dr-Weils-Breathing-Exercises-4-7-8-Breath.html

6)  Chant:  Our chant, Jai-Ma! Means to acknowledge and give gratitude!  It is pronounced Ji-yah-mah.  The literal interpretation is to give thanks to the mother.  I invoke this chant as a way to thank Spirit (whatever that is to you, within or without or both) and to call the Spirit up to remove all obstacles in the way of being truly grateful and celebratory toward this life!

Are you practicing every day yet?  The more you practice, the easier good mental health gets.  You don't need to do all 6 every day, but regularly and as often as possible.  If you need guidance, contact me:  circleofstoneswellness.com

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Feeling Disconnected? Here are 6 Ways to Get Connected and Feel Better About Yourself!

We live our lives disconnected.  We are disconnected from what is going on in our bodies until it is too late and illness makes us pay attention.  We are disconnected from what our brains are up to - as discussed last week, we are running on auto-pilot.  We are disconnected from Spirit - what brings meaning?  What brings faith?  What brings joy?  We don't have time for that in a day!  Not only are we

disconnected from these aspects of Self, but we are disconnected from others.  Oh, we might have a few people around that we are interacting with, but nothing with depth and meaning.  This is NOT good for mental health!

True, some of us have some really good reasons to disconnect.  Those with traumatic histories often disconnect from the body, because bad things have happened there.  Same with the brain - who wants to spend time there when it is so negative?!  No one has time for spirit and what the heck is it anyway?  And, the complications of relationships.....let's not even go there.  It is too much!

Guess what though?  This disconnectedness is ruining your mental and physical health.  Having a good working relationship between the brain and the body is paramount to healthy living.  And, good relationships to others help alot too!  It is all manageable and we can manage deeper more meaningful connections in all aspects of our lives.

1)  Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  Finding meaning is super important to living a happy life.  It's what kept Viktor Frankl alive through the Nazi concentration camps and afterward he created a theory of psychology called Logotherapy described in Man's Search for Meaning.  Do the following exercise on paper or in your head:   Every day ask yourself "What/who made me feel amazed today?"  "What/who am I grateful for?  What/who caused me to feel joy?  These kinds of questions clue us in to spirit and what feeds our souls. After about 30 days of recording, make your daily goal to get more of these fulfilling aspects of life into your daily life. 

2)  Power Pose:  I chose Warrior II pose this week, because it is a powerful pose! Also, the story goes that the position of the arms and the eyes over the forward arm is the bow and arrow aim of the warrior (toward his rival, but let's be peaceful).  We will think of aiming toward another - maybe someone you'd like to connect more deeply with OR aim at some goal for improving your connection to a more meaningful life! 

3)  Relaxation:  Usually, we lie down for relaxation, but you can practice this version sitting as well.  This is a scan of each part of the body and can be started at the top of the head -down OR the feet -up.  Connect to each area of the body directly and purposely to relax.  Or, you can pick a part of the body that bothers you and connect to that space and stay there, not complaining about it or judging it for being so bothersome, but just paying full attention to it with your mind and your breath.  Seems counter-intuitive, but the fight not to feel something contributes to it's higher pain levels.  The same can be done with painful thoughts.

4)  Meditate:  Ahhhhhh, my favorite meditation!  Brings such comfort.  This meditation has books written about it, so the full teaching is simply not going to happen in a paragraph.  The benefit that we are looking for in the practice with this week's intention of connection is to connect to self and then to others with meaning and depth.  There are multiple versions, I am linking one here for you.  

5)  Breathe:  The breath is your ticket to controlling the nervous system.  It is your 
way of turning on the para-sympathetic nervous system and getting your sympathetic nervous system turned down.  We will talk more about these in the future, but for now, make it your goal to practice this full breath from the belly to collar bones twice a day (minimum) for 4 rounds.  It takes 2 minutes - seriously, you have 2 minutes!

6)  Chant:  This chant can be said out loud or silently in your head.  For the silent version, you will combine it with your breath.  On the inhale in your head, say "Ham (h-ahh-mm)" and on the exhale say "Sa (s-ahh)".  For the out loud version, take a full breath in and say "Hahhhhhhhhhhhmmmmmmm-Saahhhhhhhhh."  Repeat 3-4 times or more.  This is a mantra for deep reverence toward and connection with Self.

Take time for this list of 6 every day, if you can or just one of the 6 - it can take you 2 minutes or more dependning on what you choose to commit to and have time for.  All of these practices are changing the relationship you have going on between your brain and your body for the better!

Contact me with comments or questions or to join a class or schedule a private session at tammysytsma@circleofstoneswellness.com

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Six Ways to Get Grounded

When we go through the day running from one activity to the next, one problem to the next, one task to the next, the brain and the body are the last things that get time and consideration.  And that, creates problems.  These problems manifest as feelings of too much stress, an inability to cope with
anxious feelings, and getting so overwhelmed that you create unhealthy coping mechanisms ( a quart of ice cream is not a healthy coping mechanism).  In addition, symptoms such as insomnia, appetite changes, digestive issues, body tension and pain, and many others manifest and become serious health issues.  The brain and the body have a really close relationship that needs our attention!

To be grounded means to be present, aware, and attentive to your body and your brain, so that problems with this highly important relationship do not develop.

There are many ways that one can get grounded.  I am going to cover 6 in the same categories I covered last week.  I chose these categories, because there is research and centuries of experience behind them.  None of my suggestions in this writing are time consuming.  You have 12-16+ hours in a day.  You can take 1-8 (yes, that's 1-8 not 18) minutes here and there and practice the following easy techniques.

1)  Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  This is an awareness exercise.  We often are unaware of the body/brain processes until they are screaming out to us - "feed me!"  Close your eyes and notice the breath.  Then, notice what you are feeling in the body.  Are you hungry?  Thirsty?  Tired? Etc.  What's happening in your brain?  Are you distracted?  Happy?  Anxious? Etc. Then, open your eyes.  What do you see around you?  What do you hear?  Go through the senses.  Do this once or multiple times in a day.

2)  Power Pose:  This pose is called Sukhasana (soo-KAH-sah-nah).  It means easy pose, but for some it is not very easy.  The power of this pose that I would like to focus on is in the pelvis.  Think of the pelvis as a butterfly shape and make it your goal to sit with the pelvis straight up and down.  We all have a tilt in the pelvis - forward at the hip bones or forward at the tail bone.  The straight up and down position creates power in that it enables us to sit upright through the spine and the upright stance prevents the slump.  When we slump, we have less energy, we feel less confident, and we are less engaged and more isolated from the external world.  So, whether you sit on the floor as pictured or just in a chair with your feet on the floor, no matter.  Just find a way to adjust the pelvis and sit upright!

3)  Relaxation:  Progressive relaxation is a common tool used in yoga classes, therapy sessions, and wellness classes.  It teaches awareness of tension.  The brain and the body communicate both ways.  The body tells the brain some things and vice versa.  Tension in the body communicates - "Yikes! Something is not ok!!!"  If the brain gets this message, it will continue to send out stress hormones and now you are stuck in a vicious cycle. We carry around tension without awareness and as habit.  Practice progressive relaxation anytime, but it is especially helpful before bed.   Here is a video to get you started:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyauYKLdWfE

4)  Meditate:  Sit as instructed above.  Close or soften your eyes.  As you inhale, feel like you are lifting and rising taller, extending upward.  As you exhale, feel you are settling into your seat, more connected to the earth, more grounded.  Imagine a plant such as a tree or flower - rooted and at the same time growing tall and extending to the sun.  Do for as long as you like!

5)  Breathe:  Mindful breathing is THE, yes THE best way to calm yourself and get grounded!  But, it takes some practice.  Close your eyes.  Focus on the breath.  You can attend to the sound of the breath, the movement of the breath, the movement of the body as you breathe.  Whatever works.  Your mind will wander.  It will!  The goal is not to stop it from wandering 100%.  The goal is to practice noticing when it wanders, catch it, and bring it back to the breath.  Like a bicep curl, you are strengthening your ability to focus on one thing.

6)  Chant:  Sound therapy is really effective for turning on endorphins and oxytocin.  If you don't know what those are, they are the hormones that make us feel a sense of ahhhhhhhh!  This chant creates a rooted feeling.  Pick a low note that you can hold and say, "Lang" - say it long and slow 3 or more times with a big full breath in between.

Again, you now have your practice for the week!  Take time to do something or everything on this list every day.  The more you practice, the more your brain and body thank you!

Contact me with questions or for more information and assistance at tammysytsma@circleofstoneswellness.com

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Six Ways to Practice Gratitude for the Sake of Your Mental Health

Mental health is a matter of creating a good relationship between the brain and the body.  When this relationship is out of whack, we think are losing it or simply unable to cope - it just gets to be too much!  Somewhere, somehow along the line the brain and the body started mixing up signals and mis-communicating and now the patterns of thinking and reacting are very unpleasant.  Time to fix that brain-body relationship!

There are a few ways that we can improve our mental health by simply retraining the brain and the nervous system.  I use 6 methods in my yoga classes to improve mental health.  However, just coming to class isn't enough to retrain the brain and nervous system.  So, the following 6 skills are for practicing at home.  Everyday, and even throughout the day, practice is what brings the brain and body together.  Practice each of these every day for the next week and beyond.

1) Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  The more you think a certain way or about certain topics, the better your brain gets at this way of thinking.  I like to think of it as super highways and rustic roads.  If you spend a great deal of time thinking in a certain way, it becomes an automatic super highway. We are really good at thinking about and noticing what is going wrong in our days, what is not going well in life in general, and how the people in our lives could and should behave differently.  These thought patterns, for most of us, are on the super highway.  What we want to change to is making gratitude a super highway thinking pattern.  Everyday, throughout the day, find things to be grateful for.  Write them down, you can.

2)  Power pose:  Research has shown that practicing a stance similar to the super-heroes' such as Superman or Wonder Woman increases confidence.  In order to find strength in gratitude, practice a Warrior 1 Pose with arms behind the back to feel powerful and open the heart to gratitude at the same time.

3)  Relaxation:  This is a double whammy against stress and anxiety, because we are working with both body awareness and mental awareness in an attempt to retrain the system as a whole.  Lie comfortably and still and take your awareness slowly through each area of the body, relaxing and at the same time, feeling grateful for that body area.  For example, relax your feet, then feel grateful for you feet.  Sound weird?  Maybe, but let's not take those feet for granted!  And, I bet you are more than capable of complaining about your feet when they hurt!  By the way, your mind will think of a million other things during this exercise - stick with it!

4)  Meditation:  Speaking of the mind thinking of a million other things...that is exactly what happens during meditation.  But, every time it wanders and you bring it back, it is like a bicep curl, strengthening your ability to control your mind.  For this meditation, create a mindset of gratitude.  Then, let the gratitude become a feeling that you allow to permeate your entire body - thinking and feeling gratitude all over.  Stay for 1 minute or 2 or 5 or 10 or 20.  Whatever you can stick with and make happen every day.

5)  Breathing:  The number 1, easiest method for getting the mind and the body to work together is the breath.  You can do it anytime, anywhere and no one needs to know.  In this case, however, lie down on something like the image shows - a pillow or rolled blanket or yoga bolster.  Legs can be bent or straight.  In this position, we have a full open space for the breath and we are encouraging even bigger space by stretching the breathing muscles.  Breathe full deep breaths in and out and at the same time, feel as if gratitude were gaining in power and radiating from the chest (the heart center) outward into the space around you and beyond.

6)  Chant or sing or laugh:  These 3 practices open the blood vessels with oxytocin.  Chant the word YAM which is pronounced Yang.  Place your hand on your heart and chant the word a few times in a low note, so you feel your chest vibrating under your hand.

Now, you have your practice for the week!  Take time to do something or everything on this list every day.  The more you practice, the more your brain and body will want more!

Contact me with questions or for more information and assistance at tammysytsma@circleofstoneswellness.com