Thursday, August 25, 2016

Need a Little Joy in Your Life? Try these 6 things!

Joy is not an externally driven emotion.  We think it is.  Once I have the job, the house, the car, the family, then joy is possible.  Not true.  Joy is one of those emotions that is deep inside.  It is present even when we feel sad about events in our lives.  For example, I was once a part of a funeral service for a dear uncle and friend.  I was extremely sad he passed, still am.  But on that day, with those people, the rituals we created, I felt absolute joy right alongside my sadness at being able to share and celebrate his life.  Because, what I felt about him was connected to my sense of self and the meaning I have in my life.  Joy is deep.

Since joy is not manufactured from external sources, YOU have to create it.  You have to go deep within and make an effort to connect to joy more and more often.  Remember, what fires together, wires together.  What your brain and nervous system spend time doing, they get better at doing.  Do joy!

1)  Breathe:  Combine your breath with a mudra into what I call the Breath of Joy.  A mudra is oftentimes just the hand placement in a pose or meditative state.  In this breath, however, it is a full arm movement.  Breathe in – arms lift, as in photo below.
Exhale hands together, through center, as in photo below.

 Inhale arms half way up, and exhale back down to your sides.  
The benefit of moving and breathing together in a synchronized way is that the awareness of the breath goes from an unconscious, automatic process into one of conscious and purposeful intent.  This means a different part of the brain altogether is at work - the thinking part instead of the automatic, reactionary part.  As a result, you will have more access and control over the rest of the nervous system, particularly the parasympathetic which is the relaxation, turn down the stress, calm down the anxiety side of the nervous system

2)  Meditate:   Thich Nhat Hanh is a great teacher of mindfulness.  His books encourage us to make just about every activity a mindful activity.  His meditation Present Moment, Wonderful Moment is one of my favorites for encouraging contentment and joy. 

We begin with mindful breathing meditation. Mindful breathing is very commonly the focus of meditation research, because it is simple and clear.  Focus on your breath - how it sounds, how it feels, how your body feels as you breathe.  When your mind wanders away to other thoughts, great, just bring it back to the breath.  Think of that as a bicep curl for your mind.  With every curl you do, your mind will get stronger and more able to stay focused. Unsure of how to practice?  Here is some guidance. Once you understand the practice of mindful breathing, add this layer: As you inhale say, "present moment" and as you exhale say, "wonderful moment."  And smile softly.

3)  Relaxation:   Relaxation can be really challenging.  The practice of savasana at the end of a yoga class is often too difficult for a few in every class.  Busy minds make for tense bodies and the cycle of being unable to let go of stress and tension which in turn creates more stress and tension, continues on and on and on......

Lie down, scan the body, starting at your feet.  Where there is tension, wiggle, move, stretch and release it. When the body feels relaxed head to toe, breathe to relax the nervous system.  Breathe on purpose with conscious intent to relax. Then, smile softly and enjoy.  Let yourself enjoy this time, so your mind and body want to come back here.  Train your system to want relaxation!

4)  Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  There are 2 ways to get at mental health issues: the top down and bottom up approaches:  Top down means working with the mind to support changes - CBT is one of these.  Any therapeutic technique in which the changing of thinking and beliefs is important is a top down approach.  A bottom up approach means to work with the body and the physical systems active in the mental health symptoms.  Using mindfulness is one such technique. Putting the two together is a double whammy against stress, anxiety and depression.  So, combine the breath and your thoughts to create a powerful connection.  Breathe in what brings you joy or just a feeling of joy, exhale what is getting in the way of joy.  This can be a regular inhale and exhale or make it the Breath of Joy from above.

5) Power Pose:  Trees are beautiful symbols of life and some deeper knowledge of meaning and support in the world.  The sense of being rooted, centered, and strong combines with the extension and reach toward the light of the sun.  Tree pose is a beautiful pose full of meaning and joy.  Get guidance in the pose here.

6) Chant: 
 There are several artists out there today making beautiful versions of chants that you can practice along with.  Deva Premal is one.  Here is a chant for joy from her - Om Tare Tutarre Ture Swaha (pronounce: Om tah-ray, too-tah-ray, too-ray, svah-ha).  The meaning is to create deep connection to enlightenment and liberation from difficulties and suffering. Joy!

Make your plan, your daily routine for one or all of these practices to be present in your day -every day!  The mind can not change without practice. Contact me at:  OR check out my website or Facebook page for more information and guidance!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Feeling Unbalanced? How to Balance Mind, Body, and Spirit!

We feel a sense of imbalance in many ways.  Physically, we might suffer from insomnia, energy slumps throughout the day, and health issues.  Mentally, we get forgetful, lose our concentration, get impatient with loved ones. Spiritually, there is a lack of joy, meaning, and connection in life.  There are many, many causes - too many to explore.  However, we can bring balance through a few relatively simple practices. 
It makes no matter if the imbalance is mental, physical or spiritual in origin. The work is the same.  Focus on what needs to be strengthened.  Focus on getting centered and pull the imbalance inward to create more balance.  Be aware of the problem.  And, make time for all aspects of Self - mind, body, and spirit.
1)  Breathe:  Sama Vritti – equalization breath. Breathe in naturally and count how long the breath is.  Then, exhale the exact same length.  Continue for multiple rounds, keeping the lengths of the inhales and exhales the same.  If you want to change the count to something longer or shorter, go ahead.  This helps us focus on the breath and brings us into center, helping balance all aspects of mind and body.

2)  Meditate:   Lying down, concentrate on the body from head to toe.  Notice your face and jaw.  Does it feel balanced?  Move down to the shoulders.  Are they balanced?  Then, through the rib cage to the pelvis.  Balanced?  And finally, the legs and feet.  Feeling a sense of balance in the body, shift your focus to the mind.  Try to be aware only of the right hemisphere of your brain for a while, then shift over to the left.  Do this a few times, then focus on the brow chakra or 3rd eye position.  Bring your mind and your eyes (closed) to that space.  Stay focused here.  Every time your mind wanders elsewhere, as it does, just come back to the 3rd eye. Let yourself sink into the wisdom of the 3rd eye focus.  This is your connection to your spirit.  Stay with this focus and the feeling it creates as long as you like.  You can practice here with audio guidance.

3)  Relaxation:   Balanced relaxation:  Lie flat as in savasana – shoulder blades  tucked under and flat, arms at your sides as in the photo.  Start with one side of the body, relaxing down from the face, to the shoulder, arm, hand and fingers.  Relax the torso and pelvis on that side and then down to the leg, and finally the foot.  Feel that side of the body as heavier and more relaxed than the other.  Then, do the same on the opposite side, bringing balance as you move down that side of the body.  Relax into feeling the body balanced from head to foot.
4)  Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  Set 3 small goals this week.  Small means these are goals that can be implemented successfully right away and can be sustained for 7 days.  Don’t think beyond that.  One goal is for the mind – can be emotional, intellectual, or mental.  Examples include, journaling gratitude for 5 minutes each day, telling 1 person each day that you love him/her, reading an educational book, blog, or magazine article daily.  The second goal is for, you guessed it, the body.  Could be to go to sleep nightly at a certain time, to eat a healthy breakfast, or to walk for 15 minutes every day. Final goal is to find a way to connect to spirit daily.  What brings spirit into your day?  Prayer? Nature? Meditation?  A daily inspirational reading?  Find a way for spirit to be part of each day this week.  Post your goals somewhere.  Make time for them daily.
5) Power Pose:  The benefits of balance poses are not just physical.  Yes, they increase strength, body awareness, flexibility, even proprioception (your awareness of your body in space and relative to gravity).  But also, a big part of balance poses is what you do with your mind.  In yoga we call the focus point, the drishti. The drishti is a point of focus where the gaze rests during a pose--gazing outward while bringing awareness inward. It can be helpful not just in yoga poses, but in life as well.  What we focus on, we get better at attending to.  Are you focused on the annoying habits of your partner?  Are you more focused on what you dislike about your job? Are you more focused on your weaknesses than your strengths?  Our focus drives our lives as well as our ability to hold a balance pose! 

Warrior 3 (I call it Brave Warrior):  Choose a version of the pose pictured below.  Choose the version you can hold for a while - say 5 breaths. Quiet the mind, focus on a spot on the floor, keep your mind there as you come into the pose.  

6) Chant:  Find a bell, a singing bowl, something that makes a sustained sound.  Even a recording of a bell or singing bowl can work.  As you make the tone, ring the bell, say out loud, "I am centered, calm, and balanced."  Repeat 3 or more times.  Here is a site on which you can play with the sounds that feel therapeutic: 

The only way to change the patterns in which your mind and body are functioning is to practice - every day!  Contact me with comments or questions:  OR check out my services on my website - there might be something there perfect for your needs!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Fear, Doubt, and Worry Controlling Your Life? Time for Courage, Power and Strength!

The brain, it is theorized, is set up evolutionarily to be more in tune with negative input - stressful events, scary scenarios, ruminating worries - all seem to settle into the mind with ease.  Positive feelings of strength, power, courage and confidence take more work.  This is thought to be an evolutionary holdover from the days when we needed to be very wary of our environment - from weather to wild animals and other dangers, it was important for the brain to pay attention to scary things- to record and track all events that seemed to have danger involved.  We don't have those same needs anymore - no more saber-toothed tigers hiding behind the trees, or a need to track and understand weather patterns, so we can tell when a big storm is threatening.  However, we still have that brain.  It is still paying attention to danger.  This makes it better at attending to those things it considers threatening - bills piling up, relationship challenges, difficulties at work, etc.  Now, our thoughts are scarier than the external world!

I have heard that for every negative thought, you have to think of 2 or 3 positives to equal things out.  While the math may not be so exact, in theory, this is correct.  We have to try harder to get the brain in tune with all of our strengths and less in tune with the scary stuff around us.

1)  Breathe:  Let's begin with a breath that announces victory!  Ujjayi breath translates to victorious breath.  This is sometimes called the Darth Vader breath.  I think it sounds like the sound of the "ocean" when I put a shell up to my ear.  Try the breath with help from this video:

2)  Meditate:   Hold palms upward on the knees or thighs. As you inhale, breathe in strength, power, courage, confidence.  As you breathe out, release any barriers – worry, fear, anxiety, doubt, frustration.  Say the words, "I bring in courage.  I release fear." Then, just breathe in strength, power, courage only.  Leave the negative side out and focus solely on the powerful statement and breathing it in.  At the same time, imagine the palms having powerful magnets pulling and attracting in the courage and confidence you seek.  Fill your internal space with these strong energies.  Stay as long as you like. 

3)  Relaxation:   Relaxation is the time when the mind and body build strength and grow stronger.  Muscles break down with exercise.  The mind gets worn and tired from thinking.  Giving yourself time to relax, builds strength and power in the mind

and the body.  Settle into a reclined position on the floor or bed.  Quiet the mind and focus on feeling the body completely relax.  As it does so, you will feel it seeming to melt into the surface beneath you.  Surrender completely to that melted feeling.  Quiet and still the mind.  Before coming out from the position, feel the renewal of strength and power physically present in the body and also in the mind.

4)  Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  Use the meditation above as a thinking exercise throughout the day.  Say, “I am strong and confident.” as you breathe in.  Say, “I release doubt and fear.” as you exhale.  Find the right words to fit your needs and repeat throughout the day – often!  Or, just keep breathing in the strong and powerful words alone.

5) Power Poses:  Headstand or handstand - these are considered the king and the queen of the asanas/poses!  If you are not ready for the full pose, there are ways to get there gradually, allowing your body to strengthen gradually until you are strong enough for the full pose.  

6)  Chant:  Jai!  Pronounce this chant as "J-uh-yee"!!!!  This is a victory chant.  Do a fist pump with it and feel like you are gaining on and winning over the fears and doubts that have been holding you back!  Repeat often.

Now, you are ready to gain control over those fears and worries and feel strength and confidence! Practice daily.  Questions?  Need assistance? Contact me:

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Wondering if You Can Control Stress and Anxiety? Here are 6 ways!

The stress response is something we all need to understand better.  When stress is present, the brain and the body send out signals to prepare for fight or flight.  Once the process gets moving, blood pressure and heart rate rise, we might get sweaty, a little shaky, and tense.  If the response is not turned down, it gets worse.  Systems of the body are affected - the immune, digestive, reproductive, and cardiovascular systems are all being turned down a notch and then another, and another..... If you are not able to turn the stress response down, anger, pain, headaches, upset stomach, high blood pressure, insomnia, illness and disease and more are possible.  Even the ability to speak is affected if things are stressful enough.  The speech center of the brain is turned down when severe responses are present.  Then, oftentimes, it turns into depression as the system feels overwhelmed and decides to shut down - it's just too much to handle!

This system is partially, maybe even entirely, under your control with some training.  We can not stop life from throwing stressful and challenging events our way, but we can get through them without all of the deleterious effects of the stress response.  What if you could face a stressful work meeting, a difficult family discussion, a challenging situation with a clear mind and a sense of calm and control in your body?  Time to start training!

1)  Breathe:  Think of your nervous system as a water faucet.  There is a hot water valve (the sympathetic nervous system) reacting to stress with the fight or flight response.  And, there is the cold water valve (the para-sympathetic nervous system) reacting to bring the hot water back to a luke warm temperature.  Do this breath awareness exercise.  First notice how you feel in the nervous system and explore your breathing until you find a way to turn on the cold water valve and get your mind and body to feel calm.  Every time, you want to change the "temperature" of your nervous system, explore the breath until you are in charge.

 Meditate:   Begin with the calming breath. Get yourself in a calm state in mind and in body.  Then, imagine a stressful event or challenge - either that you are anticipating or preparing for or one that previously happened.  As you imagine the event, keep your breath as a calming agent, allowing you to have the response of your choice - you are able to say exactly the right thing, you don't fly off into a rage, you handle the situation in a calm, cool and collected way.  Practice every day for 5 minutes or more for 30 days.  You will have a new brain after all that training!

3)  Relaxation:  
 Use the breath to relax the whole body, encasing yourself in a blanket of calm.  When you feel calm, notice the breath is shallow and gentle.  Let that breath continue.  Now, scan your body toes up or head down and make sure to eliminate any tension still lingering.  Tension in the body communicates stress to the brain and you'll soon find yourself out of that nice calm, peaceful state of being.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  What fires together wires together.  Let’s use this brain process to our advantage.  Teach your nervous system to associate a stressful event or a challenging event with peace and calm.  Practice a calming breath when doing something strenuous or stressful.  This is one benefit of running long distances or going through any strenuous training.  A sense of staying calm and focused through the most challenging parts of the physical exertion.  Not to say the body isn't in high energy mode.  It is!  But, the mind stays clear, present and calm.  It even learns to enjoy the challenge.  What you do is practice something challenging and while practicing, keep the breath steady and calm, keep the mind focused on the steady, calm of the breath. You might not be able to stay calm for a while, but keep trying. Keep training. Then once you've got it mastered, start using that same skill during any kind of challenging, stressful, or difficult situation.  Spread that calm around!

5) Power Pose:  Forearm plank is the perfect pose for practicing a calming focused breath while challenging the body.  Hold for as long as you can.  Then, begin to challenge yourself to hold for longer and longer times, staying in that peaceful state of mind.

6)  Chant:  Om shanti, shanti, shanti, Om.  This chant has a long, long history of creating peace and calm. Start with a low tone and raise it up gradually toward the last Om.  Repeat as often as feels helpful and practice as often as needed.  

The only way to change your stress response is to train!  Try something on this list everyday.  Questions? Contact me: