Category Archives: Meditation

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is not an American celebration.  We are led to believe that the holiday is about the first pilgrims, but the Native American’s celebrated a similar feast every year in thanks for a good harvest.  The Jewish faith has celebrated a similar Thanksgiving for centuries to celebrate their God, and Islam has several holidays that give thanks to and for God.   In fact most cultures have a day to celebrate life and to give thanks.

Giving thanks is not a new concept, and along the lines the day has lost a little bit of its meaning as it has become a day to watch football, get stuffed and get ready for Black Friday.  In my family giving thanks happened for all of about 5 minutes before the stuffing of people actually started, and the rest of the day was dedicated to getting ready for the meal or cleaning up from the meal.

Because of the work that I do I have several clients that struggle to find things to be thankful for.  Every single one of them misses the small things in their lives that are amazing and beautiful.  I had this discussion with a client last night about having her child taken away from her by Children’s Protective Services.  She was able to see that it placed her son in safety while she was able to find continued sobriety and an increasing strength in herself.  She was able to give thanks for having the room right now to fail and learn from her failures if necessary while her son is safe.

Even our struggles help us on our path for growth, and often get us to someplace wonderful and amazing. It is only when we fall in to despair and forget that there is a light at the end of the tunnel that we get lost in the pain and don’t find the other side with the beauty. On this one day, can you see the things that are struggles in your life, that cause you pain and difficulty and find some way to re-frame them in to beauty?  That is true Thanksgiving.  Being able to see the beauty in even the pain, and finding the little things that we sometimes miss.

A daily practice of thanks gratitude is especially important now, as we as a country enter a time of upheaval and change.  I find gratitude that the change is happening, even while I am afraid of the change process.  I remember that any kind of change will come with trauma.  I have to remember that change never comes as I expect, and the storm is there to help tear down so rebuilding can happen.

  • My demanding cat that show She loves me by purring loudly by at 5:00 am, and licking my toes after I swim
  • The way the air smells the morning after a rainstorm
  • The things I have to loose in my life, because I have them
  • All of the goals I haven’t met, because they give me directions
  • The goals I have met
  • My struggles, because keeping with myself through them shows I have strength
  • The little tree in my back yard that has clung to life for 13 years and keeps on holding its ground
  • The disagreements I have with my Husband, because each time we find compromise we become stronger together.
  • The blue of the water, the blue of the sky, the green of the grass, the wind in the trees
  • The small moments every day that provide surprising beauty, that all I need to do is open my eyes to see.
  • The support of my family, even though they are states away from me, and we don’t always get along with each other
  • The trials and struggles of my past, surviving them has made me the person I am today
  • The flowers (both metaphorical and real) growing in places of strife and hurt
  • The people in our world that continue to fight for kindness and acceptance

Yoga and you

Proprioception is knowing where your body is in space.  It is one of the tests police use to test for drunkenness.  Close your eyes and touch your nose.  Walk a straight line.  Stand on one foot.  It is one of the things we lose when intoxicated.  It is also one of the things we lose when we have trauma.  Studies are starting to show that yoga, along with therapy and medication can help people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder heal more quickly.  So what in the heck does yoga do?

Yoga itself is a meditation.  Each position is called an “asana”, or focus.  Meditation changes us on a cellular level.  When used correctly, it helps the body know that it is OK and allows regular body processes, including basics such as digestion, to keep going.  When in a state of stress these process are put off in preference of dealing with the stress and what the body perceives as a threat.  When used for anger it continues the process of stress and anxiety.   When you focus on letting your body experience each pose (as imperfect as it may be), and use your breath to move between poses,  your body is allowed to begin to remove the cortisol and adrenalin that has been coursing through it to manage stress.

Yoga is also a test in accepting failure.  When first starting a yoga practice, no matter how athletic you are, you are going to fail time and time again.  Your balance will be off, you will fall out of poses, you won’t be able to transition smoothly in to poses, and you won’t be able to hold poses.  If you are attending a class you will look at the people around you and think “they can do this, I should be able to as well!”.  When you can let go of that expectation, and be OK with your body and what it is capable of, you have stepped up to the next level.  When you can be OK when you can’t hit the inversion you did yesterday, or hold the pose, or lose your balance, you’ve gone even further.  The final step is implementing this acceptance in the rest of your life.  In life we will fall.  We won’t be able to do today what we did yesterday.  We will struggle and struggle.  Failure builds muscle and helps us find solutions that success wouldn’t have let us see.

Yoga also helps us see successes.  As you continue your yoga practice you will find that all of a sudden you can do the pose that has frustrated you for years.  You will feel more confident in your balance not only psychically, but emotionally as well.  You will find that because you don’t let the little things bother you as much.

Yoga isn’t wonderful for everyone.  If it doesn’t work for you, find the thing that will do these things.  The things that let you be OK with failure, that test your body and mind in different ways and encourage your to fall and fail.  People tell me that they have running or swimming routines, and unfortunately that just doesn’t do it.  It doesn’t test where your body is in time or space, and with both swimming and running you probably already know what you are doing.  There are fewer chances for growth.  If yoga isn’t for you, that isn’t a problem.  But do find the thing that will do the above for you.

Yoga helps teach you where your body is in time and in space, and reminds you that you do have control over you.  It reconnects your mind and your body, often after life situations that make you feel helpless with both.

Riding the crazy train

I’ve discussed that meditation is focus.  I have posted several meditations that give direction and focus helping to teach control, and regulate emotions. The truth is meditation is focus, and any focus we choose can be a meditation. If we are mowing the lawn and focus on feeling the vibrations of the mower, the smell of the grass the feel of the sun on our back, we are meditating. If we take a bite of food and focus on the textures of the food, the smells, the different tastes, we are meditating. What we focus on affects us on a cellular level. When we focus on the above innocuous topics our body knows we are not under attack and releases calming hormones and works to purge stress hormones.

Sometimes, our brain decides it wants to focus on something, whether we want it to or not.   When this happens usually our brain has chosen a focus that is often unpleasant and one of our frustrations.  Our brain jumps on the train of crazy and is going to go for a ride, no matter what we want.   Some of you will have no idea what I am talking about, and some of you will be nodding you heads in silent understanding. Sometimes there is an event that triggers the train to leave the station and go in circles. We think of the event, what we wish had happened, what we wish we had said, what we would have said if we had the chance, and the chagrin of our “enemies” as they understand how wrong they are. This will run in circles around our brain again and again. Sometimes the stars align with the current hormones in our body and for no reason whatever our brain just decides to go for a ride. When our brain does jump on the crazy train our body releases cortisol and adrenaline, along with other stress hormones.

The key is to get off the train. I am very well aware that once the brain has gotten the bit in its teeth that is much easier than it sounds. The train often leaves the station when things are quiet, especially when we are trying to go to sleep. When we are lying in bed trying to settle down and our defenses are down, especially as we start to process our day, the events that trouble us start to run in circles. The last thing we want to do is get up and do something. We don’t want to get up and run the risk of not sleeping. Or we don’t want to interrupt whatever process we are working on in the moment, be it hiking, cross-stitching, chocolateering, or even doing homework.  But we need to interrupt the process.

Sometimes we are required to ride the train.  Sometimes when the horse gets the bit in its teeth you have no choice but to go where the horse takes you until it gets tired. Then the one thing you have is the knowledge that the ride will end. Sometimes though, the best thing to do is to do something, anything else. If you’re laying in bed, get up and go play a game, go for a walk, watch a TV show, anything that gives you a distraction from the crazy. I don’t recommend using food as it is easy to turn to junk or over eat and quickly gain weight. Writing down the thoughts is going to be a personal judgment call. If you write an email to someone it is too easy to click send on something that you will regret the next day. It is also easy to get stuck on the writing and keep the frustration going, instead of getting it down on paper or in data form and moving on. Stay away from your phone and social media, the risk of saying something that you will regret later is too great.

At one point or another every single one of us will board the crazy train. Thoughts of being wronged, the love we can’t have, the hurt we can’t soothe, the food we can’t eat, any of these can invade our thoughts and just run in circles. The first thing to do is know that this is normal and will end. If you can, find a way to distract the thoughts and derail the train. Don’t let yourself do things you will regret, meaning stay away from email, social media, and your phone. The crazy train will stop but emails, texts and posts can’t be undone. Above all, have space for yourself to be a little crazy every once-in-a-while.

What’s in a breath?

Take a moment to take a deep breath. The kind that makes your ribs creak and pushes your tummy out. That one breath helped you in the following ways: It purged toxins that were being help in the bottom of your lungs. It massaged the nerves along your spinal cord encouraging blood flow to the spinal chord and your extremities. It massage your internal organs, encouraging blood-flow and increased productivity. It let your brain and limbic system know that you aren’t being attacked right now, and it can start releasing calming hormones and chemicals. That one breath did all of that. Imaging what 5 more can do.

We are a society that has forgotten how to breath. When I teach meditation, I often have to teach people to breath, because they have forgotten what it is to take a deep breath. For some the entire meditation is about practicing the unfamiliar feeling of breathing deep.

For some the shallow breathing is a skill that helps keep the emotions from being felt. Those emotions well up, swirling around, creating havoc and pain in the rest of their lives. The deep breaths let to emotions flow out, letting go of the pressure that is being kept up. This can be painful or difficult, but cleansing and releasing. The concept of a clean pain is often foreign to some people. A clean pain has movement and helps move the pain clear out, breath helps do this. The trick is the pain has to be felt, it can’t be ignored anymore.

Breathing is key. It reminds us to slow down and be present in the moment. It helps the body function better. Breath helps cleanse not only toxins from the body but toxic emotions that can build up if we let them. If you have listened to the most recent meditation you know that breathing can help cool the body, and when the cooler weather comes, it can help warm the body as well. It sounds cliché, but a deep breath helps calm down anger and fear, bring you more in the moment, and helps with focus. It all starts with the breath.