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:

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:  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:  OR check out the services on my website for info. about individual sessions and group sessions offered.

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:  OR check out the services on my website - there might be something there perfect for your needs!

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:  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:  OR check out my website or Facebook page for more information and guidance!

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:

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:  OR check out my website or Facebook page for more information and guidance!