Archives for category: meditation

MikeI recently took a ‘Hot Pilates’ class. The format begins with one minute of continuous bicycle abs followed by a minute of mountain climbers.  We repeated this combination 6 times. So, 12 minutes later I was hoping this exact segment would not be repeated during this hour of exercise! What I did notice is that my mind was grasping for the next mountain climber segment, since this was easier to perform than the bicycles. I wanted relief from the demands of the bicycle exercise. You know what I am talking about: lying on your back with your elbows bent and palms holding your head, knees bent in table-top position, you alternate right elbow to left knee, left elbow to right knee. Your legs scissor back and forth. The object is to lift from your respective sides employing your oblique muscles, the muscles responsible for twisting and rotating our spinal column. This is a demanding process; done properly it is a very demanding process. A mountain climber is executed starting in down dog position, lift your knees to your chest repeatedly for the minute.

Question is, “How do we employ mindfulness during these demanding exercises?”  Our mind is actively processing the comfort or lack there of during each repetition. The instructor is reminding you of proper alignment and execution. Our self-talk is noting, “Am I lifting and twisting my chest high enough?” “Am I being precise enough?” “This is uncomfortable!” “How much longer will this go on?” There is relief when one segment is completed. Then the possible self talk when we have completed all 6 segments of each. “Wow, I did it!” “I want to do this class again!” “I am getting stronger.” Is this not mindfulness? It is not the quiet mindfulness when we pay attention to one breath. This is not the quiet mindfulness technique of counting our breath, four counts in, pause, four counts out, pause.
I would suggest that it is the same mindfulness expect for the physiological response of exercise. During the bicycle and the mountain climber exercises our breathing is increased, we are sweating, our heart rate is increased and we are moving our body.  During a simple mindfulness moment we may be stationary, not moving. Our physiological responses are going in the other direction. Herbert Benson termed the phrase, Relaxation Response. Heart rate slows, positive hormones increase and breathing slows. The combination results in feelings of comfort, ease, i.e. ‘relaxation’.

Like a boxcar on a roller coaster track, I had to corral my thoughts into a positive direction during this demanding class. I didn’t want to be negative; I wanted to inspire myself to perform as well as possible on that given day. It helped to keep me going. I often remind myself that, “What I focus on, expands”. So by ignoring the unpleasantness of the workout, I was able to have success. I left feeling better than when I entered the class. I felt as if I had accomplished something demanding.

In our mindfulness practice we can apply the same principles.  Choose a time of day or a routine event like walking to your car. Make it a practice to look around. As you walk this familiar path, notice everything around you. Employ all of your senses:  look at the sky, feel yourself in the outside world, smell the air and just generally be mindful in the present moment. This requires a type of endurance.  This focus will put you in the moment so that other mundane or disturbing thoughts are replaced. By practicing this sensory awareness focus, mindfulness will be enhanced. Perhaps gratitude will become part of the mix!

Whispers of the Breath Diva:

real face.2

 

In this moment I can fully focus and be present!

 

Advertisements

Mindfulness”  has become a new buzz word.

FlowerMeditation and Mindfulness are like clogs on a wheel. They are part and parcel of awareness.  Mindfulness is like the little sister of meditation.  She needs only short, frequent exercise.  The big brother meditation is like a body builder who increases the weight and number of repetitions over time to gain muscular strength.

Someone new to meditation spends say 5 minutes paying attention to their breath.  Over time that person is able to spend 20 minutes in and out of a singular focus.  Both of these practices have similar benefits.  Reducing levels of cortisol and other stress hormones, lowering blood pressure and stress reactivity as well as circulating youth enhancing positive hormones.

In Daniel Goleman’s Linkedin in article, “What Mindfulness is – And Isn’t” he describes how our mind is designed to wander.  Based on a Harvard study, Goleman writes,  “In fact the mind is wired to wander about 50% of the time…”  This idea that successful meditation or even successful mindfulness is based on stopping the activity of the mind is erroneous and sets up a false expectation.  We have all had the experience of being in the moment.  We are in singular focus and may not even hear the sounds around us.  When this happens it is a lovely experience.  Meditators will tell us that the discipline of “sitting” for a named period of time is the key to successful meditation.  Yes, the mind wanders.  Yes, that one item on your to do list all of a sudden becomes the most important detail of your life.  Yes, you must get up right now.  However, the practice of letting that thought go, and letting the next thought go for that determined, set time is what is the key.  The moment that you feel at peace, even for a few seconds, is the reward for your efforts.

It is how something makes us feel that is the true litmus test of the innate value of that activity.  Even if we don’t make time to sit and meditate, we can enhance our lives by being mindful.  I have written about “witness consciousness” in my earlier blog, Youth Enhancing Moments.  I have noticed that I repeat thoughts.  If these are past or negative thoughts I use a simple mindfulness technique I borrowed from Lisa Wimberger’s Neurosculpting.  First step, I notice that I am entertaining a repeated thought.  In my mind I spell out the word, “R E L E A S E” and tap my body with my non dominate hand.  It is a simple technique to disassociate from the non productive, repeated thought.  You can decide to use the word, “release”, “let go”, “enough”; whatever word has the most meaning to you.

If mindfulness or meditation are interests, I highly recommend Jon Kabat Zinn’s Sounds True audio program, “The Mindfulness Revolution”.  He describes the ability to be mindful as fundamental to the human experience and not a anomaly.  He goes on in this audio interview to say:  “The fundamental question facing all human beings: “Who are we?”  “What are we doing here?” “What is the meaning, calling, purpose of a body life lived?”  When we use the word, “mindfulness” we are referring to a way of being, a way of paying attention that leads to a more robust capacity to live inside of our awareness as opposed to being caught up in discursive thinking and emotional reactivity which is often blinding. This leads to a great deal of suffering or a sense of being lost, confused or out of touch with what is most fundamental. My work over the last 32 years, demonstrates that regular people are capable of training to a point that transforms the way they actually are in their internal and external experience.”  He says it all so perfectly!

real face.2 Whispers of the Breath Diva:

In this moment I am alive, awake and aware!

We all have body rhythms, the question is; how in sync is our lifestyle with these rhythms?  Are you an early riser or do you fight yourself to get up in time to meet your responsibilities?

In a perfect world our responsibilities would revolve around our body rhythms, not the other way around.photo-3

I used to give a lecture called, “Do Exercise and Relaxation go Together?  You Bet!”  I cited Irving Dardik, a surgeon who developed a controversial SuperWave theory to treat his patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.  Keep in mind that he developed these treatments when we as a culture were not as aware of the relationship between our habits and behavior and our wellness.

In 2002 diabetes and heart disease were not viewed as “lifestyle” diseases the way they are today.  Exercise and relaxation are recognized as means to stave off these diseases.  Irving noticed that in cultures closer to the equator, where life revolved around a more natural cycle, the populations didn’t have these diseases.  In our culture we get up to an alarm, we eat on the run, i.e. we can be in a constant state of stress.  This he felt wears us down because our natural rhythms are like a wave.  With this chronic stress, we flatten that wave which he proposed, caused disease.   Instead of following our natural rhythms we have become an “always on” culture.

He went on to develop an exercise protocol re-named the “cyclic exercise protocol” that increased heart rate variability so that instead of steady state exercise (warming up for 10 minutes and exercising at a steady pace for 20-30 minutes and then cooling down) one would exercise very intensely and then sit down, stop exercising. I remember thinking this was too extreme at that time.  Dardik ‘s premise was that one’s heart rate variability is a predictor of health.

Today, heart rate variability is a popular way of accessing health and optimal performance days.  Heart Math, founded over 19 years ago, has created products that access HRV and guide one into what they term “coherence”.  Optimum coherence is measured as 0.10 hertz, cycles per second which equates an optimal relationship between our heart and our brain.  Their programs/products teach meditation/breathing techniques showing graphs of HRV and of one’s autonomic nervous system.  Other companies produce similar devices for elite athletes to measure their performance readiness.

Fast forward to Douglas Rushkoff who’s book, Present Shock, explores how the digital age may be changing our lives in ways we never considered before.  He maintains that we thought the digital age would give us more free time and we would be able to create less stressful lives.  The opposite has occurred, we have more information and messages to ingest.  It is not uncommon to see couples sitting at the table texting someone who is not in the room and ignoring the present company/moment.   What are we missing?  There is a 24/7 stream of information coming at us.  A synopsis of his book is another blog.

What I found interesting in terms of rhythms was Rushkoff’s mention of working with brain chemistry in a 28-day cycle with each week being governed by a different neurotransmitter.   “The first week is acetylcholine, the second week is serotonin, the third week is dopamine, and the last week is norepinephrine.”  According to Rushkoff, Acetylcholine is associated with “good energy, they are going to be peppy and a great time to introduce them to new ideas”.   During a Serotonin week “everyone is going to be very productive”.  Forget a Dopamine week, “you are not going to get anything done, that’s when you are going to go ski and party and go nuts.”   The final week in the cycle:  “Norepinephrine, that’s the fight-or-flight neurotransmitter, so that’s putting everybody in a very sort-of analytic, structural…organize the calendar” week.

Joseph Alonzo, in a blog entitled: Lunar Cycles and Neurotransmitters written June 18 and posted on “Great Place to Work” wrote:

“Our current workplace systems are not designed to support working on tasks that align with the dominating neurotransmitter, but what if they did?  Admittedly, this is a challenging concept to consider given the reality of deadlines and the collaborative nature of many workplaces; however, when dreaming up the future it is important to consider the value of an idea before immediately finding its inconveniences.”   See more

I think it is important for us as individuals to understand our own rhythms so that we can live in harmony with these rhythms.  Balance is always the key!

Whispers of the Breath Diva:

real face.2

“In this moment I can sink into my heart and breathe deeply.”

“In this moment I am self-aware.”

The  Thanksgiving holiday always makes me feel the need to do something, read something, write something to underline how grateful I am for so many things.  I was reading Rob Brezney, who has an interesting play with words.  He wrote:   “I invite you to keep a running list of all the ways life delights you and helps you and energizes you. Describe everyday miracles you take for granted . . . the uncanny powers you possess . . . the small joys that occur so routinely you forget how much they mean to you . . . the steady flow of benefits bestowed on you by people you know and don’t know. What works for you? What makes you feel at home in the world?”  The last sentence went ping!  That’s it!

I ask myself that question, “What make me feel at home in the world?”  Which brings me to another question:  Where do we live?  Do we live in ours houses, our geographical locations, i.e. San Francisco, CA?  Or do we live in our bodies?  One could counter and say their mind or their feelings.  In truth the territory of how you feel -where you live- resonates in what I term, your “internal space”.  How you manage your daily habits, lifestyle choices and most importantly, your thoughts, contributes to how comfortable you are with “where you live’.
Your lifestyle habits:  what you eat, how much you exercise, your friendships, your love relationship, these are all factors that combined, equate to your overall sense of well-being.  Your attitudes, your career, your avocations and your hobbies, etc. influence your mental state of mind.  Who is in control? Easy answer, you are!  Inherent in our thoughts is the ability to design a set of habits and attitudes that feed us, in short that make us feel at home in our world!

So what is your list of “ways that life delights you?”, “the uncanny powers your possess”, “small joys that occur?” “the steady flow of benefits bestowed on you by people you know?” Delight can come in a stranger’s smile, the sound of a child’s laughter, a good choice at a restaurant, the way a recipe turned out.  What are your ‘uncanny powers’?  Merriman-Webster online defines the word ‘uncanny’ as: “being beyond what is normal or expected”  My son Daniel can start a conversation with anyone practically anywhere and have them laughing or at least smiling within a few minutes.  What is your experience of “small joys”; can you think of one now?   What is or are the steady flow(s) of benefits bestowed upon you by people you know?  Too many to enumerate?  Have to admit, it feels good when you do.   How about looking at your daily through these lenses?  And, through the lens of “What makes you feel at home in the world?”

Whispers of the Breath Diva:

In this moment I can inhale and feel gratitude…gratitude for my life force, energy, intelligence and creativity!

Balance, how do we live a balanced lifestyle?  Surely this is a continual blending of responsibility and desire.  Am I leaving out spontaneity?  The markers of this process, of the work in progress that is “YOU” – your LIFESTYLE can simply be listed as questions.  Most of us will continually confront the question, “Have I met my responsibilities?”  The following questions pertain to balancing the rest of your life.

Have you had fun this week? 

Did you take time to exercise and move your body?

Did you participate in creativity outside of your work life?

Have you been your own best friend?

Did you connect in a spiritual way this week?

Speaking of fun, I spent an afternoon recently wine tasting, barrel tasting to be exact.  I was at the Amphora tasting room, on Dry Creek Road outside of Healdsburg, CA.

Rick Hutchinson,  the wine maker, gave us a lesson in what makes wine noteworthy.   He spoke of racking and turning the barrels,  the wines exposure to oxygen as well as the soil in which the vines live.  He said, standing with the ‘wine thief” filled and ready to dispense into a glass, “Wine is alive just like people.  What makes a wine age well is balance.  If you have balance in your life you will live longer and age gracefully!”

I was struck by wine maker Rick’s sense  of care, process and timing.  He truly is the husband, i.e. steward of his vineyards.  The results of course, unique and special.  His engagement a lifestyle to be sure.  It was fun to meet new people, to learn about wine making, to taste the wine in the barrel and a bottled counterpart.  Rick was kind enough to treat us to a few pairings of varietals from the barrel with a taste of the same, bottled and aged for a few years.  Yummy!

An interesting antidote:  Rick is a potter who throws beautiful clay jars,  “amphorae, modeled after the jars that ancient Greeks and Romans used to store wine”.  He has found a creative outlet that is not his ‘work’.

Cooking is a creative outlet.  I feel remiss for not sharing a recipe with you in some time.  I was cooking with a friend a few Sunday dinners ago and she commented that, “I have cook books which can seem intimidating; yet a magazine recipe seems so approachable”.  Her part in our dinner was an Ahi delight from a magazine.  What you see pictured on the left is the bedding for the Ahi.  1 bunch of Sweet basil, 3 roasted bell peppers (mix yellow, orange and red), olives(mixed green and black), need I say more.  Flavor, flavor, flavor. Yes there were just a few steps involved.  Roast the bell pepper and remove the skin; wash the cherry tomatoes, rinse the sweet basil and place in a roasting pan with the olives.  Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar on top.  If you want your Ahi on the rare side cook the mixture for 25 minutes and add the Ahi for 10-15 additional minutes.  Otherwise, place the Ahi on top of the pepper mixture and bake for 30 to 45 minutes.  The Ahi is not seared so expect it to be steamed.  You can sear it and place it in the oven for just a few minutes to capture the flavors of the bed of savories.  Baked tuna steaks contain only 1.4 g of fat per serving, while offering 26 g of protein.

Did you treat yourself with care and respect this week?  Were you your own best friend?  At the end of the yoga classes I teach, during the relaxation  towards the end of class I often ask, “What is it you want more of in your life?  What are you craving?  Interaction, connection, rest, curling up with a good book, a walk in nature….?”  In this short few minutes we can allow the answer to bubble up because we are creating a moment in time to pay attention to our inner space, living from the inside out.

I personally can combine the words “workout” and “fun”.  It is fun to walk or cycle or go to a yoga class.  It is fun to bat the tennis ball back and forth.  It is fun to interact with a pet and a ball.  It is fun to chase and be chased by a 2 year old.  And you?  What was the last “fun” experience you had?  I recently walked around Pacific Heights/Presidio Heights here in San Francisco with a friend and a book on the architecture of Maybeck, Farr and Coxhead.  This was fun!

To me the spiritual connection is about tuning in with gratitude for our life force, vitality and energy.  I have a statement I use to express gratitude.  “I totally love the continuous flow of ________ into my life.  This makes me feel ______.

You can fill in the blanks.  I totally love the continuous flow of ideas into my life.  This makes me feel unique.  I totally love the continuous flow of money into my life.  This makes me feel successful.  I totally love the continuous flow of healing energy into my body.  This makes me healthy.

Whispers of the Breath Diva:

I am healthy, I am happy, I am loved, I am loving!

When asked to evaluate your mood or “attitudinal climate”, do you have a vocabulary for your “state of mind”.   Do you have a glossary of adjectives at your disposal…energetic, harried, frantic, tired, happy, productive?  Take a brief inventory right now!  What is your energy level, low to high?  You can use a scale from 1-10.  Do you feel focused or diffuse, melancholy or present?  Do you feel you have the ability to alter or to change your state of mind?  If so, do you do this through: positive self-talk, a quick telephone call to a friend, a walk?   Have you used a fitness class, a yoga session, a guided relaxation tape or a simple breathing exercise to shift your attitude? All of the above are viable alternatives.

The most direct method is to simply follow your breath.  Through breath awareness, we enhance our well-being.  We, in effect, create a ‘youth enhancing moment’ by just simply giving attention to our breath, i.e. by taking a slow, conscious breath.  Two mind/body principles are activated here:  breath centering and introspection.   At the end of the yoga classes I teach I remind my students:  “In any moment throughout the day you can inhale and receive:   energy, vitality, peacefulness.  And, in any moment throughout the day you can exhale and release: tension, fatigue, fear.”

Our limbic system responds to our thoughts.  Popular Deepak Chopra, MD, author and “Mind/Body Guru” points to the studies that indicate that when we have sad thoughts we dispense sad cells throughout our systems.  Sad cells can adhere to our liver or other internal organs.  We once assumed that our mind contained our thoughts and emotions.  Now we know that our mind is a non-local point; our intelligent systems communicate holistically.  If our limbic system is flowing with ‘good hormones’ those happy cells are floating and adhering to our organs – we feel a strong sense of wellbeing.  If we are centered on ‘fight or flight’ thoughts, the opposite is true.  This stress contributes to the aging process.  It is the continued exposure to the adrenal hormones such as cortisol that weakens our system.  There is a reason you feel good when you laugh, when you smile, when you remember that special moment of intimacy or of success!  Good hormones are released into your system and bathe your healthy cells.

By employing simple mind/body techniques, breath-awareness, centering and introspection, we not only witness our state of mind, but more powerfully, we author that which we choose to focus upon.  I have developed a simple exercise to keep my attitude in the healthy zone.  When I react to another person, even in my mind by being curt or negative I simply create one or two more positive responses. For example, if another driver cuts me off, I may react by glaring at this driver and saying out loud “ You Jerk!”   Next, I check myself and say quietly to myself, “Please be careful!”   You get the drift- very different underlying meaning here.    I use this for thoughts too.  I may think as I walk by and catch a glimpse of my thighs in the window and indulge in self-criticism, “Your thighs look big!”  Next I substitute a self-acknowledgement, “All of the cycling I have been doing is making my thighs look strong!”

Exercise does enhance our state of mind; a simple walk can change our attitude almost immediately.  The increased breathing, the simple range of motion movements, even the change of scenery, can all lift our spirit.  You can create these youth enhancing moments by employing your active imagination.  Try adding some active imagination to your walk.  Think back to a peak experience.  Many years ago I met and talked with Kevin Costner.  All I need to lift my attitude quotient is to remember the details of that experience.  His eyes, his smile…I can do that now!

Or see or “feel” yourself exactly where you want to be – at the apex of a desired accomplishment for instance.  Imagine how that would feel!  How are you holding your body, what expression is on your face, who are you with?  Can you imagine yourself on the Ellen Degeneres Show?  Or better yet, exposing your talent, product, book to the hundreds of thousand viewers of Ellen’s show?  See yourself right now laughing and sharing your ideas and expertise with Ellen!  I must note that if you do not like to be on stage you would not find this a pleasant experience; being in the national spotlight would produce the opposite.  Remember a roller coaster to one person is a joyful experience; to another person it is fear on wheels!

Give yourself permission to develop and to own your dreams!  We know that our emotions are powerful generators of energy.  If we are passionate about something, we create. Energy is not static.  Each time we think about something we lay down a layer of energy.  That is why it is often stated that what we think about, we create.  See or feel yourself being drawn to your desires.  Deepak Chopra tells us  that when we desire something we have the mechanics to create our desire.

Think back to a positive memory or imagine a desired attitude.  Hold this thought while you do the laundry, drive to work, stand in line at a retail store.  Create your own ‘Youth Enhancing Moments” and enhance your life by adding this dimension to your inner world.  Be the author of your own well being!  By simply focusing on attributes that you want to live with on a regular basis: strength of purpose, self-knowledge, patience, love, ease, laughter, you will draw these attributes into your life.

I have created two products to assist you in this process:

First is the  E-MOTION MIND BODY FITNESS relaxation

a 16 minute guided meditation- a virtual power nap guaranteed to renew and refresh you so that your attitude is rebooted.

Second is Yoga Walk

a guided walking experience drawing you into all of your senses and your active imagination.

So make yourself smile right now – fill your mind with positive self-talk, with pleasant experiences or memories.  Imagine, play and say “No” to self-judgment and to self-criticism.  Be your own best friend!

Whispers of the Breath Diva:

Our sense of Self can be our treasure, can be a territory to explore, can be our friend.  By your thoughts and actions, you create an expectancy.

What are you drawing to yourself?

What are you inviting into your Life?

In this moment I can inhale and author my Life!

Meditation or  guided meditation?  Which do you prefer?  When we think of meditation, we think of sitting and clearing our mind for a specific amount of time.  We do this by either reciting a mantra (usually a non language of origin word) or clearing the mind by counting backwards from 10-1.  Each time a thought arises going back to number 10, repeating the process.   There are of course many ways to meditate.  In my previous blog, Routes into Relaxation, I mentioned Breath Awareness as a relaxation technique.

According to an article that appeared in Yoga Journal June of 2010, “Your Brain on Meditation”, written by Kelly McGonigal, “Science has proven that meditating actually restructures your brain and can train it to concentrate, feel greater compassion, cope with stress, and more.”  How and when do we do it?  Or do we pick a time to be led into a state of relaxation that trains the mind like meditation?  Do we use a guided meditation to glean many of the benefits of meditation.

In a study published online April 21, 2011 in the journal Brain Research Bulletin, the researchers found that people trained to meditate over an eight-week period were better able to control a specific type of brain waves called alpha rhythms. Christopher Moore, an MIT neuroscientist and senior author of the paper states: “Our data indicate that meditation training makes you better at focusing, in part by allowing you to better regulate how things that arise will impact you.”  It is noted in the study that the group that meditated listened to a CD to be guided through the process.

In the first video lesson of the site, What Meditation Really Is, we are instructed to  “Simply relax your mind!”  What a simple statement; how do we do this?  Obviously since meditation is called a, ‘practice’ perfecting the technique is a practice!  She sites that one of the benefits is getting to know our mind.  I appreciate what this female figure goes on to say, that the real objective of mediation is to become familiar with the  “Unchanging pure awareness that underlies our whole experience of life”.

Yoga Nidra is a yoga based practice which states a similar objective.   According to yogawonders.com, “Yoga Nidra is a highly powerful ancient meditation technique originated from the Tantras. It is the scientific way to eliminate the root cause of all the negativities.” In his Yoga Nidra CD , Richard Miller, PhD guides us into our internal space sensing into our body, breath, energy, feelings etc.  He invites us at the beginning his CD is:  “To realize the timeless wisdom that lies hidden within you, that your underlying true nature is unchanging heartfelt equanimity or  presence that is always present during every circumstance of your life.”

I love the word “presence”  since we are each a presence.  We bring to each circumstance all that we are in the form of our presence.  I love that meditation wants us to define ourselves beyond our roles, our chronological age, even our experiences.  It whispers to us, points to something more about who we are in totality.  Our state of mind seems to be a marker of how close we are, how often we touch the greater part of ourselves.

I personally have used relaxation CD’s for years.  I am currently alternating between the Yoga Nidra CD and a few others.  Sounds True is a wonderful site that offers podcasts and products that relate to Spirituality, Meditation, Psychology and Healing.  They offer a free weekly newsletter that features authors and includes an interview by Tami Simon called “Insights from the Edge”.

By training our minds with meditation, by doing yoga, by walking in Nature, by bringing our awareness to everything we do, we can practice mindfulness.  We can develop an awareness of that part of ourselves that is witness consciousness.

Whispers of the Breath Diva:

In this moment I am fully aware, fully conscious and ALIVE!