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!  

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