Tuesday, November 22, 2016

How Does Gratitude Heal? Here are 7 Ways...

It's everywhere right now - be grateful!  It might be overused, but the reason for the ubiquitousness of a simple practice such as gratitude is that there is research behind it.  So, pay attention!  Also, if you are just plain sick of the word gratitude, then use something else - awesome, love, happy, good, great, connected, etc.  If you are a regular reader, then we have talked about this before, but if not or you need a refresher, listen up:  the brain is super good at negativity!  Super good.  It is an evolutionary thing - the brain thinks its job is survival.  And, it is.  However, the job description in the past century has changed,  No longer need to look out for the dangers of the wilderness, do we?  And, I hate to be critical, but the brain's evolutionary abilities are really, really, slow.  So, it is paying attention to a whole lot of scary, negative stuff and that stuff is really not helping us live healthier and longer.

What that means is that if you have negativity swirling around up there most of the time - critical thoughts, judgement, patterns of detrimental thinking, (need I go on?), then you need to retrain your brain toward positivity.  Your brain is up there paying attention to what sucks about your day and it is getting better and better at it each day, because you are literally practicing negativity.  Again, if you read my blog often, you know this: the brain gets better at whatever it is you practice and do.  The more you do it, the better the brain gets at it.  A gratitude practice is training the brain to get better at paying attention to and thinking about the good stuff.

So, let's get started:

Breathe:  Lie on a roller, as in the photo.  If you don't have a roller, you can roll up an extra yoga mat or a
blanket, or some pillows and create a position like in the photo.  Knees are together and feet are wider than the hips.  This position relaxes the hip area and the psoas muscle.  Let you arms rest with your palms up.  Inhale and fill the chest with the breath.  Exhale and relax into the shoulder blades - opening the front of the body.  This is one of those exercises I call an "anti-slumper."  Good for breathing, good for posture, good for feeling more positive.  Slumping actually makes us feel less positive.  Try it.  Slump, then stand tall and see how each feels.

Meditate:  You can do this meditation in the above position or any comfortable position.  I think it is a great meditation to do right before sleep, while lying in bed.  We often lie in bed thinking of things we regret about the day or all of the things we have to do the following day.  How about going to bed with a positive mindset?  First off, you have to decide:  Is this a gratitude practice?  Or, maybe it is about love or happiness or something else.  Bring to mind something or some things or someone that makes you feel the feeling.  Play it like a movie in your mind.  Let the feeling grow and stay with it as long as you like.  Your mind will wander, maybe even get critical.  Don't react, don't get frustrated, just come back to your movie, come back to your feeling of gratitude (or other).  If it is before bed, you will fall asleep to positive thoughts!

Relax:  Progressive relaxation is the most common method of relaxation.  It is easy to do and requires no guidance, but if you really want to be guided or get a better idea of what it is, here is a video.  Lie down and go through each part of your body, either toes up or head down and make sure each part is relaxed.  You could tighten and release the muscles in each area or just give them a shake or a wiggle to relax.  Inhale to tighten, exhale to release.  In this version, however, add gratitude or appreciation.  Say, "I am grateful" for each area of the body.  And be grateful!  Might seem weird to send gratitude to your toes, but I guarantee, if you hurt your toe or lose your toe, it will not be pleasant.  So, let's not take anything for granted!

Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  Cognitive therapies are all about changing your thinking.  I already covered the need for the change and how the brain does that negative thing above.  Moving on..... get a journal or some paper for this exercise.  The reason is that writing is a whole different part of the brain than thinking or talking.  Writing is the motor part of the brain,  If we get multiple areas of the brain involved in a practice, it sticks!  So, daily get out your journal or your paper and write down what you are grateful for (see photo).  Or, write "this is what I loved about today..." Or, "What was amazing today?" Or, "What went well today?"  Your question, your words, your focus - just make it positive!  Could be one thing or 20 things, just write.

Power Pose:  Warrior I pose is a favorite pose of mine and this photo by Candace is full of great cues to get it right.  Hold your hands at your heart to feel gratitude expand with the power of the pose!

Affirmation:  You gotta do it.  People feel awkward, silly, and even resistant to affirmations.  Really?  If you can't affirm yourself, then you will be looking around outside yourself for validation and I promise you, that is not the best source.  Plus, it is totally exhausting to do so.  Write this affirmation down and put it somewhere that you will see regularly.  Say it out loud regularly.  Look at yourself in the mirror and say it to yourself regularly.  Is the regularly part clear? It's important - see above for that whole bit about practice.  Choose an affirmation from this list or make one up yourself.

Chant: Ommmmm.... is a very powerful chant for bringing all creatures and beings into a mindset of love and acceptance.  This is a variation on Om that makes for more space within, because the tone and the feeling it creates in the body changes as the sound and tone changes.  Make Om into 3 syllables or tones:  AhhhhhhOhhhhhhMmmmmmmmm.........repeat.

Find positivity 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:  tammysytsma@circleofstoneswellness.com OR check out the services on my website for info. about individual sessions and group sessions offered.  circleofstoneswellness.com

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Feeling Lonely, Unfulfilled in Your Relationships? Ways to Deepen Your Connection to Others

In a world of billions, many of us feel lonely.  In our own households and work places, surrounded by people, we feel separate and removed.  The social part of us is now believed to be an innate, survival mechanism that is incredibly important in mental health and physical health.  Yes, it is true that people with good social connections and enough intimacy and support, get sick less.  Mainly because it is
stressful to feel alone.  It is stressful to feel like there is no one at your side, supporting you, comforting you, laughing and sharing with you.  Stress equates to lower immune system function among many other systems that get turned down when stress hormones are floating around in our bodies.  So, it is in our best interests to cultivate stronger connections with others for both physical and mental health reasons.

While it is true that others in our world can cause feelings that contribute to our feeling lonely and unsupported, loneliness is basically an internal concept that requires internal work and healing.  Some of the work might be external, but the internal work is most important for feeling connected to others, because asking for, no, requiring what you need in relationships and being vulnerable emotionally is your job.  And, being strong enough to be vulnerable and be strong means you need to start with self.  Here's how:

Breathe:  If you visualize someone who is disconnected, alone, standing off as a wallflower in a crowded room, notice the posture.  The posture is closed, hunched forward.  This kind of posture limits the breath, because the muscles and structures that allow us to breathe are squashed by the closed off posture.
Try it.  Hunch over, breathe as full a breath as possible and exhale it out.  Now, sit upright and breathe as full a breath as possible.  Much better!  Pay attention to your breathing posture throughout the day.  Improved breath will link to improved mood, improved mood will link to improved breath and both will mean more confidence and self-assurance! This is your first step in creating the internal change needed for your external connections.

Meditate:  Loving-kindness meditation can take many forms as far as words go.  The true Buddhist wording of the script can be intimidating to those not studying Buddhism.  However, there are other more secular phrases available as in this example and guide:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77MgkADxcyk  The benefit of choosing this meditation is that it begins with self, before moving on to others.  The compassion and love begins with self.  If you can create a strong, compassionate connection to self, then moving on to others is less daunting and more genuine.  The connections you create with others are real and fulfilling when you begin with self.

Relax:  When you settle in to relax, how about adding some compassion?  Lie down comfortably in a relaxed pose. Then, as you relax each area of the body, say, "I love and appreciate this area of my body."  If this feels weird, do it anyway!  We are very capable of sending messages of disgust, rejection, and displeasure to parts of our bodies.  Time to improve on the positive side, with feelings of appreciation and acceptance.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  What messages are sending in your mind throughout the day?  Are they encouraging you to make connections?  Are these messages empowering?  Are the messages kind?  If the patterns of thought you engage in during the day continue to make you feel lonely and disconnected from others, or make you feel unable to set the boundaries and requirements for more fulfilling relationships, then it is time to change them.

Think of these discouraging and disempowering thoughts as recordings that have power behind them.  Each time one comes up, disempower it by creating good posture, take a good breath (see above) and say a new message/thought.  Every time you do this, you begin the process of weakening those recorded thoughts and you change them to healthier thoughts that will help you to create better connections with those around you.

Power Pose:  Goddess pose is a variation on Temple pose.  The power of the pose
is very evident.  Start with the legs and add the arms last.  Your feet are turned out about 45 degrees.  Your knees are going to be bent directly over your ankles, so place your feet at a width that feels do-able.  Hold your pelvis straight up and down.  You do this by tilting the tailbone straight to the floor.  Now, lift the low abdominal muscles.  This lift feels like what you do when you have to urinate (lovely yoga language, eh?), but you stop the flow of urine and hold.  This muscle is your power source!  Now. place your hands palms together in front of your heart and slowly open them out to the position pictured, still holding strong in the lower abdominal region.  As you hold, add the affirmation given below.

Affirmation:  "I am strongly connected to and compassionate with myself and with others."

Chant:  Use this chant to deepen your connection to all - self and others.  "Ham-sa" Pronounced as "Hum-sah"  It is not always necessary to say it out loud, but the benefits of sound make it worthwhile to so.

Find deeper connections 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: tammysytsma@circleofstoneswellness.com  OR check out the services on my website for info. about individual sessions and group sessions offered.  circleofstoneswellness.com