Blog Archives for category Mindfulness and Meditation
Your body is naturally hard-wired to react to threats in a way that is meant to protect you (think of encountering lions, tigers and bears, oh my!). But your body and your mind may pay the price if your “fight-or-flight” reaction – a natural protective mechanism – is constantly “on.”
Stress today comes from different sources than that of our ancient ancestors. It may come from fighting traffic during the daily rush hour, the rush of getting yourself, your family off to work and school everyday, from pressures related to job and career and managing your workload, and from worry about making ends meet in this difficult economy. And while these daily stresses may not be immediately life-threatening, if left unchecked and uncontrolled, if you allow your body’s natural stress mechanism to be left continuously in the “on” position, you will begin to pay a price over the long haul.
When your body perceives a threat, and is under stress, it releases a combination of nerve and hormonal signals that prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys to release a surge in hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. According to an article from the Mayo Clinic, here’s what happens when these hormones are released:
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies.
Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes.
Fortunately, your body’s stress response is usually self-regulating. As the perceived threat goes away, blood pressure returns to normal, adrenal glands stop producing cortisol and adrenaline and your body returns to normal functions.
The problem occurs when levels of stress are constantly present in our lives, even at low levels. When this happens, the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and the other stress hormones begins to create health problems. Such problems include:
o Heart disease
o Sleep problems
o Over eating, which can lead to weight gain
o Skin problems, rashes, eczema etc.
o Short-term memory loss
So, how do we cope with the stress that is a part of our daily lives? As the woman and primary care-giver in most families, you have to put yourself first. As I am fond of telling my clients, “If you are going to constantly write checks off of your wellness account, we have to put some deposits into the bank from time-to-time!”
It’s all about achieving balance in your life, finding the time you need to maintain your optimum health, while at the same time caring for your loved ones. Some of the things you can do include:
Exercise – finding 30-minutes a day, at least 3-4 times a week doing an activity you enjoy. Walking is a great form of exercise. Remember, exercise isn’t punishment! As human beings, we are meant to move, to walk, to run, to stretch, to jump, to throw. Incorporate simple, joyful activity into your life
Get plenty of sleep – this is one lifestyle factor that you can directly control, not just for yourself, but for your family. Turn off that TV early, and set a goal to get 7-8 hours of rest every night. Your body needs this time to recharge and re-energize
Find time to meditate or use other relaxation techniques – I lead a very busy life, but I’ve mastered the art of the “5-minute meditation!” Ideally, I will find more time each day, but I have also found that taking short, little meditation breaks, as short as 3-5 minutes, really help me become calmer, more grounded, balanced, and focused. Just find a quiet spot, turn off outside distractions like the TV or radio, focus on your breathing, and let your mind find that calm, quiet space it needs
Surround yourself with friends – there are few greater joys in life than good friends. Surround yourself with them and they will help you find comfort
Counseling – Talk therapy really works. If you find that you cannot manage the pressures of your life on your own, please do not be afraid to go out and find a professional that can help you. Start with your doctor and get a referral. If she can’t help, here is a good resource for you.
Finally, here is a simple energy medicine techniques that I think you will find helpful.
Connecting the Central and Governing Meridians
This is a technique that strengthens the Central Median, which will help you stabilize your body’s energy systems, and will help you to center and ground yourself.
1) Stand with your arms loose at your sides, feet comfortably apart
2) Breathe in through your nose, and then out through the mouth several times until you begin to feel a sense of calm taking over your body
3) Place the middle finger of one hand between your eyebrows and the bridge of your nose (this is the point of your third-eye chakra)
4) Place the middle finger of your other hand in your navel
5) Gently press each finger into your skin, pull it gently upward and hold for about 20-30 seconds while continuing to breathe deeply through your nose and out through your mouth.
You can repeat this technique 2-3 times or until you feel a sense of balance and grounding.
I start every session with my clients with this self-healing affirmation:
- Give yourself permission to be here today.
- Give yourself permission to be cared for.
- Give yourself permission to be nurtured.
- Give yourself permission to be loved.
Give yourself the gift of massage and schedule your next appointment with me today.
I’d like to share another meditation that I use regularly in my practice with clients. It’s called “Put Yourself First,” and once again it comes from an excellent book, “Daily Meditations for Calming Your Anxious Mind,” by Jeffrey Brantley, MD and Wendy Millstine, NC.
I tell my clients all the time, if you plan to continually write checks on your “giving account,” you need to make some deposits into it from time-to-time. Taking care of everyone else’s needs before your own can be exhausting. And, over time, frustration and even resentment can build up which can result in chronic stress and anxiety. So, with that in mind, I would like to share the following meditation that I use in my practice with clients. It’s called “Put Yourself First.” Putting yourself first is not a selfish act for a caregiver. In fact, it is just the opposite. If you are going to constantly give, you must learn to receive. You must learn how to love and care for yourself in order to be there for others.
- Find a quiet place, and take a moment to sit in silence. It is just you, your chair, and your breath. Allow yourself to sink into the chair and get comfortable. Let the chair do the work, and let it support you.
- Take a slow, deep breath. Let the breath fill your belly and enter your lungs. If you feel any tension or pain, focus the breath on that spot(s). Allow the breath to come in, and gently take away the tension, the pain, the anxiety.
- You may hear voices in your head; they are the many “to do’s” on your list. Don’t try to hush those voices – “do this, don’t forget to do that.” Instead, just allow these thoughts to swim through your mind and eventually spiral out. They are just your thoughts, worries, to-do lists, and reminders. They will be there for you later. For now, you are giving yourself permission to be alone in this quiet space. Give yourself permission to receive, knowing that in doing so, you are honoring your right to let the stillness infuse your mind and your body.
- Pay attention to any feelings that may arise when you are busy taking care of everyone else. You may feel resentful that others do not consider your feelings and often expect you to do everything. You may feel discouraged that your needs wind up at the bottom of the list.
- You are an excellent caretaker of others, so let’s consider how you can take better care of yourself. Say aloud, or internally to yourself, “I am learning to recognize how I put aside my needs in order to take care of others and how this affects me and my anxiety. When I put myself first, I am taking responsibility for caring for myself the very best that I can. When I love myself and acknowledge the importance of my own needs, I am putting my needs on an equal footing with the needs of others.
- Continue to breath and allow the stillness to wash over you.
- When you are ready, get up from your chair and go back into the world, prepared to put yourself first.
Regular bodywork and massage is another way to “put yourself first.” Why don’t you take a moment and book your session with me now.
I wanted to share a beautiful meditation that I received in an email from my friend Leah. Leah is also a massage therapist and she is one of the few therapists that I actually allow to work on me. Leah has also introduced me to the concept of “Metta.”
Metta in its simplest definition means “loving-kindness.” At a deeper level, it is an attitude of goodwill and compassion towards yourself and others. Leah learned about metta through her Thai Massage trainings and subsequent research on meditation for stress relief.
This is the meditation that Leah shared with me. And now, I wanted to take a moment to share it with you. It is one of the meditations that I use to begin and end my day. I find that it is a great way to have patience and compassion to approach day-to-day situations.
Replace the “you” with “I” to bring peace to yourself first before you can send it to others. Take two full breaths between each line and repeat if desired.
May you be Happy
May you be Healthy
May you be Peaceful
May you be Safe
According to one survey, traffic in our nation’s capital where I live, is the fourth worst in the country. The three cities that are ahead of DC are (in order), Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. I’ve driven in all of those places, and believe me, there is not much difference between the worst on this list.
I drive about 40 minutes (on a good day!) from my home to my office in Arlington. The most direct route has me driving into the teeth of the worst traffic in the area. And like most drivers, I get frustrated and upset whenever someone cuts me off, drives too slowly, or changes lanes without signalling.
This past summer, I noticed that I was becoming really upset and tense during my daily commute. It’s not a feeling that I enjoyed, but what could I do about it? I certainly did not want to bring this tension and anger into my work, into sessions with my clients. After all, I was supposed to help them relieve tension and anxiety, not contribute to it.
The answer was actually pretty simple. I just let those feelings go. As traffic increased and became more congested, I decided that I needed to let that tension, created by all the drivers around me, to just pass through me. I decided I was not going take it on, and not let it stick.
Whenever I felt myself becoming tense or anxious during my commute, I would focus on my breath, breathing deeply and slowly from deep within my belly. I performed little grounding meditations while driving to help bring on a sense of calm and well-being. I kept telling myself that all of these people around me are just trying to do the same thing that I wanted to do: get to work, drop a child off at school, attend a meeting, or drive home. Once I realized that we were all in this together, that we all were trying to do the same thing, it became much easier remain calm even during the very worst of the rush hour. My daily commute became an extension of my meditative and mindfulness practice.
I also did some very practical things this past summer that helped me to reinforce the practices I performed in my car each day.
I started keeping my car scrupulously clean. I subscribed to a service at the local car wash that allows me to get my car washed once a day. I usually don’t do this, but I always go in at least once a week, and often several times during the week. I decided that if I were going to spend more than an hour a day in my car, that it would be a pleasant and relaxing experience. I apply essential oils to the inside of my car. A blend of patchouli, bergamot, sandlewood, rose absolute, jasmine, cinnamon, vetiver and ylang ylang laced with vanilla helped create a powerful proprioceptive anchor onto which my calming meditations could cling. Friends who ride in my car now say that driving with me is like getting a massage!
The end result is that I am able to get through my day and release anger that would otherwise build up. Is it perfect? No, of course not. Do I still get frustrated when traffic backs up? Of course I do. But, each moment of frustration and anger creates an opportunity for me to release and let it go. And rather than get down on myself, I embrace these opportunities to start each moment fresh. It is part of the “art” of letting go of anger. It takes practice, but it is so worth it!
The cold and flu season is fast approaching so, I thought it would be a good idea to share some tips I learned from my friend Connie Boucher, a certified massage therapist and spokesperson for DoTerra Essential Oils. She shared some very helpful tips to strengthen the body’s immune system and reduce your risk of catching the flu or colds.
- Diet – eat as much unprocessed (and preferably organic) food as possible. I know it is difficult, but try to stay away from junk food and sugary snacks
- Drink plenty of water each day. How much will depend on a variety of factors such as your activity level, weight, etc. But try to keep a bottle or glass of water at your side throughout the day.
- Exercise regularly
- Get plenty of sleep
- Wash your hands often, and keep your hands away from your nose and mouth as much as possible
- Try to keep a positive outlook
- Gargle with warm salt water daily, and finally
- Use pure essential oils daily
I heard recently that the average person gets 2 colds per year. But, I have to say that follow most of the items on the list above, and I have not had a cold for over 4 years. I constantly wash my hands (before and after working with clients). And, I believe that the essential oils I use in my practice have really helped boost my immune system and keep me healthy.
Here are some ways to use essential oils to help boost your immune system as we approach the cold and flu season.
Flu and Cold
- Essential oils such as Wild Orange, Thyme, Oregano, and Lemon all have antiseptic qualities.
- Peppermint and Lime both help to open the respiratory system
- Frankincense helps to strengthen your immune system
- Lavender and Melaleuca help soothe and calm the nervous system
You can diffuse any of the oils above or use them topically. Combine them with a carrier oil (fractionated coconut oil or grape seed oil both make good carriers) and rub them on the ears, chest, along the spine and soles of your feet.
Sore Throat and Cough
- Frankincense – helps strengthen the immune system and promote healing
- Lemon – soothes and disinfects
- Eucalyptus, Lemongrass, Ylang Ylang (helps to stop spasms)
Put 1-2 drops of oil in a teaspoon of agave nectar or honey and swallow to soothe coughs and sore throat. Don’t drink water immediately afterwards; let the oils sit in your throat. You can also rub oils directly on your throat and then cover with a warm cloth.
Congestion and Mucous
- 1 drop of Frankincense
- 2 drops Oregano
- 3 drops Cinnamon
- 4 drops Peppermint
Combine all the oils and rub into the soles of your feet.
I found a really interesting article in this week’s Washington Post health section and I thought I would share it with you.
The article, titled “Mantras and meditation may give your brain a boost“, Carolyn Butler writes that meditation may actually alter the structure of our brain for the better. She cites recent research published last month in Psychiatry Research which tracked people trained in a type of mediation called mindfulness-based stress reduction. The people in the study practiced this form of meditation for 30-minutes a day, and after eight weeks were given an MRI exam. The scans showed “significant gray matter density growth in areas of the brain involved in learning and memory. The researchers also pointed to an earlier study that found a decrease in the area of the brain affects fear and stress. Researchers conclude that for the first time we have identified a biological reason why people feel better when they practice meditation.
I’ve been an avid proponent of meditation and I work with my clients all the time to help them bring meditative practice into their lives. The article listed four ways to get started with meditation.
- Find the style of meditation that’s right for you. There are many forms of meditation so it’s worth doing some research to find which style works best for you.
- Practice makes perfect. Like anything else, adding meditation to your life requires patience and practice in order to make it a habit.
- Practice mindfulness throughout the day. I call these activities “meditative snacks” or “McMeditations.” Ideally, everyone would have 30 minutes a day to practice some form of meditation. But, you can receive the benefit of meditative practice by just finding a few minutes here and there to center and balance yourself.
- The mind will wander. People often get discouraged by this, but it is totally normal. Just allow those thoughts to come in and release them and slowly bring yourself back to the present.
I have an extensive library of books on meditation and meditative practices. One of my very favorites is “Daily Meditations for Calming Your Anxious Mind,” by Jeffrey Brantley, MD and Wendy Millstine, NC. I refer to it often and I use it as one of the textbooks for my workshops on breathing, meditation and meditative practices. I would like to share with you today, one of the meditations in the book that I have modified.
Brantley and Millstine give us some background for this meditation by suggesting that we practice compassion and self-love for ourselves as we bear the burdens of stress and pain. We often become angry when we are in pain, whether the pain is physical, emotional or spiritual. We feel anger towards the pain, and then carry that anger towards ourselves. Sometimes we may feel helpless or vulnerable, and that fuels the pain and anger, which only serve to increase the pain we feel.
This meditation helps us to remain present and to act with kindness and compassion towards ourselves. I personally have embraced this meditation and use it as a matter of practice whenever I feel fear, anxiety and uncertainty. I use it to support myself during challenging moments in my life.
- Find a comfortable location, a quiet space in your home. I have a very comfortable chair in my living room that I always use. It has become my “meditation chair,” and my body has become so accustomed to it, that it naturally settles in and relaxes!
- Sit comfortably, close your eyes and take in several long, slow and deep breaths. Feel the air fill your lungs and savor it as you slowly exhale, deliberately bringing attention to your body.
- As you begin to feel more comfortable and more focused, let yourself become more open to whatever is upsetting your mind or your body. Name this upset gently, and with compassion – for example, “This is my anxiety about my health,” “This is my fear about losing my loved one,”, “This is my back pain.”
- Continue to breathe mindfully and remain present for the experience at it unfolds before you. As best you can, let yourself relax and soften. Allow the chair or sofa on which you are sitting to do the work, feel yourself sink deeper and let yourself be calm.
- Speak to the part or parts of you that are in distress. With compassion and kindness, offer them relief. Visualize offering a drink of cool water to anger. Imagine a gentle touch or a massage at the site of the pain.
- Speak quietly and kindly to the upset. “May you be at peace.” “May you be released.” “May you be safe.”
- Take as much time as you need and continue to practice. Be patient, not requiring anything to change. Allow your heart to fill with compassion for yourself and for the pain and upset, regardless of what happens next.
- When you are ready, finish your meditation by speaking compassionately towards yourself. Speak to yourself with a kind and understanding voice. For example, “May I live with peace and ease.” “May I live free from fear and anxiety.” “May I live free from pain.”
I am very pleased to announce our latest workshop, Sacred Breath and the Art of Forgiveness, Love and Gratitude.
Date: Saturday, September 18, 2010
Time: 10AM PDT – 2PM PDT
Where: Kat Troyer’s house, 4 miles North of Half Moon Bay in El Granada, CA
To Register: Contact Fred Krazeise at 703-623-5889, or by email at email@example.com, or call Kat Troyer at 415-290-4249
Join Fred Krazeise (nationally certified massage therapist, Intrinsic Coach®, Reiki Master) and Kat Troyer (Reiki Master / Teacher) for an introductory workshop designed to reintroduce basic breathing techniques, mindfulness, and the are of self-forgiveness, love and gratitude to your life.
Breath is the source of our life – it is where our spirit lives. The first thing we do when we come into the world is take in a breath. The last thing we do when we leave this world is let out a breath. The quality of breathing is linked to the quality of our interaction in life. Ho’oponopono is an ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness. The process of Hoʻoponopono helps to correct, restore and maintain good relationships.
In this 3-hour course participants will learn:
o Three useful physical relaxation techniques that can help you reduce muscle tension and manage the effects of the fight-or-flight response on your body
o A basic introduction to the Ho’oponopono process which will help each participant release past resentment and anger, and leave them more balanced, peaceful and complete.
Workshop participants should wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing.
This seminar is limited to 6 participants, so register early!
I wrote this post originally for Owning Pink, and it was first published there on June 9th, 2010. I am republishing it here to share it with my clients and readers.
It’s amazing what children can teach us.
Recently, I had the pleasure to work as one of more than a dozen or so caregivers participating in a “Day of Pampering” for the women of an organization that operates an undisclosed 200 room safe house in Northern Virginia for female domestic violence and sexual assault survivors and their children. The Day of Pampering was being held at a local church. The congregation there had graciously offered to open their doors to the volunteers and survivors. My job that day was to give Reiki, Cranial Sacral Therapy and bodywork to survivors who had signed up for the day.
My first “client” of the day was Najya. That is not her real name, but we have to protect her identity. She came to me on that day to receive energy work. Reiki and Cranial-Sacral Therapy can be very effective methods to re-introduce nurturing touch to survivors, as they are very non-invasive techniques.
I always ask for permission before I begin the session and before I apply touch. It’s the client’s session – in this case, Najya’s session – not mine. She needs to set the tone and the pace. Permission is always required.
While I do not have a set protocol when working with survivors, I often like to begin with a deep breathing exercise. It’s a safe exercise, and it helps to bring the client into the moment, helps her to relax, and helps re-connect her with her body.
It’s fascinating. We don’t think about how we breathe, we take breathing for granted and many of us have literally forgotten how to perform this basic act. We have lost our ability to breathe naturally, in the way in which our body was designed. Our lungs are teardrop shaped, and they are meant to be filled from the bottom up. That means breathing from deep within the belly, engaging the thoracic diaphragm, and filling our lungs with air from the bottom up. However, most people fill their lungs from the top down. They engage chest and neck muscles when they breathe. It’s called “chest breathing”, and this is often the source of neck and shoulder pain, and the cause of headaches.
As I began the session, I guided Najya through a typical breathing exercise. I usually do variations of this exercise.
But, Najya was definitely having trouble with this. Try as she might, she just couldn’t seem to get the hang of engaging her belly muscles, engaging her diaphragm. And I just wasn’t doing a very good job guiding her through this.
“I can’t get a full breath,” she said frustratedly.
“No worries,” I replied. “Let’s just move on.”
So, for the next 10-15 minutes I performed gentle massage, Reiki, and some Cranial Sacral Therapy. I focused my attention on her head, neck and shoulders – gentle, very subtle manipulations, in a very nurturing way. I checked in with Najya throughout, always asking permission to move on. It was her session, and she was in control. And as progressed through the session, I noticed that she began to relax and become more present and in the moment. As that happened, her breathing began to subtly shift from her chest to her belly and diaphragm. And in the end, she was breathing deep from her belly.
Her head was in my hands, and I was about to end the session. I asked her, “How do you feel?”
She took a few seconds to reply and said, “I feel calm.”
I don’t know what made me ask, but I said, “Do you have any children?”
She looked at me, smiled and said, “Yes, I have a baby boy. He’s 8-months old.”
“Have you ever watched him breathe?” I asked.
She thought about it for a second and said, “Not really. No.”
“Where is he?” I asked in hopes that she had brought her young son to the daycare center that the safe house volunteers provided.
“He is here. He’s in the nursery,” she replied.
And then I quickly answered, “Let’s go see him.”
I helped her off the massage table, and we walked down the hall together to the nursery. As we entered, Najya walked over to a volunteer who was holding a very big baby boy in her arms, rocking him as he slept. He had a dark head of hair, and a gentle smile on his face as he slept in the arms of his caregiver.
Najya smiled at the volunteer and whispered, “Let me take him.” The volunteer gently handed over this plump baby boy to his mother.
“What is his name?” I asked.
Najya replied, “He is Bahir.” She looked down lovingly at this beautiful baby boy.
Najya cradled her son in her arms. He was sound asleep, and as she held him, she broadened her stance and began to sway slightly, mimicking the rhythm of his breathing.
“Put your hand on his belly,” I whispered as I moved closer to both of them. “Close your eyes and feel the sensation of his breath.” She placed her left hand on his belly, and then closed her eyes, searching for the rhythm of his breath.
“Feel his breath and make it your own,” I said. As I said this, I could watch this little baby boy extend his belly, breathe in through his nose, and ever so slightly breathe out through his mouth.
We stood together in silence for several minutes and Najya began to connect with her son.
After a few minutes I asked, “May I hold him?”
Without a word, she slipped her son into my arms. I quickly said, “Place your hand on his belly, and place your other hand on your belly and mimic his breathing.”
Then, the three of us were just stood there in silence, swaying gently. There was a gentle rhythm to his breath and I was able to count Little Bahir’s breathing patterns. His belly filled to the count of five, and he exhaled to the count of eight. He was sound asleep and just doing this naturally.
“Feel his breath and begin to breathe as one,” I said.
And so we stood there for several minutes. I’m not sure how much time really passed. But, I could see that her breathing patterns had changed. She was now taking deep full breaths, in a very relaxed and natural way. She was breathing as her body was designed to do.
I also noticed subtle changes in her posture. Her shoulders were no longer up around her ears. Tension lines had disappeared from her face.
“Continue to focus on the breath,” I said and I returned her son to her arms.
When we were born, we all breathed like babies. And then somewhere in the transition from baby to “little person,” we forgot how to breathe. We lost the connection to our belly, and to that place that grounds us to the earth.
But, we can definitely recapture this feeling. We want to breathe this way. It only requires training and desire.
Najya, Bahir and I stood together in the silence for a few more minutes.
“How do you feel now?” I asked.
She replied, “Wonderful!”
“Practice this,” I said. “Mimic the way your son breathes and let him teach you,” I said.
I stood there for a few minutes more and then quietly slipped out of the room.
It was a wonderful day. One of my favorite parts of the day was to walk around and watch the children rolling in play doh, making jewelry, playing on the play ground or in the nursery, so content and being rocked and played with by a volunteer care-giver.
I saw nearly 20 “clients” that day. But Najya was the most memorable. As I packed up my table and supplies at the end of the day and carried them to my car, I noticed Najya from across the parking lot. She glanced up and saw me. She placed her hand on her belly, and I could see that she took a deep breath from all the way across the parking lot. She closed her eyes and smiled.
It’s amazing what children can teach us.