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:  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.

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

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

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:

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:

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