Going Out to Go In: Nature’s Healing Power

Windswept

 

Our son gave me a journal earlier this year, for Mother’s Day. In it, he had copied a quote from a book I brought him back from Portland’s Hoyt Arboretum.

 

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out til sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in”—-John Muir

 

Where do you go when you want to refresh? How does this reset, recharge impact your day?

12 Word Meditation Practice in 6 minutes

 

Fourteen years ago I spent a week in a Boston classroom learning from the dedicated staff of the Benson Henry Institute. Peg Baim, shown here, has continued to inspire me through her foundational audio recordings of meditation practices. Her presence, wisdom, and knowledge provided me grounding and affirmation. Although we briefly met, I have gone back through the years and listened to her recordings over and over. I’ve also shared her work with many clients.

In this video, Ms. Baim demonstrates a twelve-word practice developed by the renowned Buddhist monk, scholar and author Thich Nhat Hanh. The steps are the following:

  1. Sit comfortably.
  2. Each pair of words is practiced with breath, for several rounds each.
  3. Begin the sequence by the following
  4. Breathe in the word “In”, breathe out the word “Out”.
  5. Breathe in the word “Deep”, breathe out the word “Slow”
  6. Breathe in the word “Calm”, breathe out the word “Ease”
  7. Breathe in the word “Smile”, breathe out the word “Release”
  8. Breathe in the word “Present”, breathe out the word “Moment”
  9. Breathe in the word “Wonderful”, breathe out the word “Moment”

Here are the word pairs again:

In, Out

Deep, Slow

Calm, Ease

Smile, Release

Present, Moment

Wonderful, Moment

Making Friends With Props

FRIENDS WHO PROP YOU UP
Friends Who Prop You Up

How do you view yoga props? Do you see them as yoga studio objects used only by those who need them? Let’s challenge our opinions, and subsequent use of props, in the spirit of building a fuller, supported, yes, even dare I say, more robust yoga practice!

What would be different if you could move from “prop judgement” to “prop embrace”? At times, blocks, bolsters, and blankets may seem like materials that hinder rather than help your yoga class experience. Unhealthily challenging oneself by trying to force a position often trumps finding ease, stillness, and breath in the midst of a pose. Embracing props may allow the mind to rest or body to extend in a pose. Props can promote better alignment, use of body’s anatomical wisdom, and actually experience ease more fully. Let’s illustrate this concept of support and ease a bit closer.

Sukasana, or Easy Pose, provides a perfect example. It’s the familiar cross-legged position we often start or end class with, or use for seated meditation. In spite of the pose name, for many, finding comfort in the hips and knees is challenging here. So, why not sit on a block, blanket, or even bolster in order to elevate the hips? This simple method allows the calves, knees, and ankles to move naturally toward the earth through the benefit of gravity. Perhaps the greatest benefit of prop use here is for belly movement. That is, the abdomen can now relax more, therefore helping the breath to move down the torso and fully expand. Try this yourself: sit first in Easy Pose on the carpeted floor or a mat, drop the shoulders, straighten the spine, and notice the breath for 8-9 cycles of inhalation and exhalation. Now, sit on the prop of your choice. Practice the same breath exercise. What do you notice?

Like a theatre prop, a yoga prop can be seen through the lens of helping to create an experience. Even though we are not in a play production or performance in a yoga class, we are, indeed, intentionally building a compassionate atmosphere of body and mind restoration. So, the next time you come to class, invite yourself to pick up a prop you’ve never used, or ask the teacher to help you use it in a particular pose. Demonstrate your courageous self and move towards flow and discovery in a familiar pose, in a new, perhaps more open way. Namaste.

Two Ways to Rest The Mind

valley of the mind
valley of the mind

 

Way #1:

When’s the last time you got outside for a hike around your every day habitat? Even if you walk for 5-10 minutes, you reap benefits and create space for yourself. Especially when overwhelmed with to dos, or thinking through a problem. Here are some measurements behind that. In fact, research suggests that shorter, more frequent walks bring more benefits than long treks. Walking provides healthy habit building, exercise, stress reduction, lowers blood pressure, creates a state of flow and ease to the day. There’s only so much we can ponder things. Our minds need a break, a rest, the natural world to gaze upon. So what if you can’t go on a 5 mile hike in the mountains today? Why not just go out your door, or to a nearby park? How about taking 10 minutes during lunch to get outside? Even if it’s in your work parking lot, you will benefit.

savasana
savasana

Way #2

When you return from a 5 or 10 minute walk, lie down on the carpet or a mat for 2-5 minutes. Or, you can lie down outside. If you have an office chair, sit comfortably there with the spine straight and belly relaxed. Get comfortable. If you really need to rest, just do it without the walk. If you lie down, try resting on the back, with a rolled blanket under the knees to support the lower back. Bring breath into the belly, soften the muscles of the face, jaw, and tongue. Place your palms up. Close your eyes. Endeavor to stay awake and focus on the movement of breath. Count the breath if you like. This helps give the mind a focus. Breathe in for 2, out for 4. This is 2:1 breath, and deeply relaxing for the parasympathetic nervous system, the calming system of the body.

So, 10-15 minutes later, how do you feel? What do you notice about the body and breath? What do you notice about the problem you faced? What’s changed? What new perspective seems available?

Coming to the Senses

digital roots

The human body receives constant sensory input that provides up to the second information about the world around us. This is great news! And thankfully, we are created to modulate these responses. So, how can we use this amazing instrument, the human body, and play healthier music within? Intentionally noticing the five hard-wired senses gives us opportunities to do just this.

Whether or not you believe in behavioral resolutions this time of year, bringing awareness into our lives is a powerful practice. Why? Because when we go through the motions of the day without noticing how we feel physically or emotionally, stress, body pain, and inflammation occur. Instead, when we tune in and witness what our sensations and reactions are, we can use this information to calm, center, and choose a different response. 

Use this simple exercise to practice sensory self-care. Please be patient and compassionate with yourself. Noticing the world around you, your reactions, is a process of change by itself. It takes practice, for all of us, every day, moment by moment. 

What sight, sound, touch, smell or taste reminds you of relaxation, comfort, joy… or any other positive emotion or experience that’s linked to your health?

Take a few moments to be still and visualize easy, accessible things you can do to bring pleasant awareness to the senses. Is it listening to a favorite song on the way to work? Enjoying a cup of tea with a friend? Using essential oils? Feeling the feet on the ground as you sit at your desk? Wiggling the toes? Looking up from the laptop and allowing eyes to rest? Taking time to really taste food while chewing? Taking a deep breath? Hugging someone you care about, love? (Remember, to get a hug you’ve got to give one).

Be as specific as you can and write down three things that bring you relaxation for each sense. Before you begin, take a few deep breaths. As you hold your pen, or write on your laptop, drop shoulders away from ears. You may want to write about or focus on one sense each week, or each day. Do what “makes sense” to you!

 Sight

1.

2.

3.

Sound

1.

2.

3.

Touch

1.

2.

3.

Smell

1.

2.

3.

Taste

1.

2.

3.

After you complete the exercise, even if you haven’t actually done any of these things yet, check in with yourself and notice your mood. What do you notice? How’s your body feel, compared to when you began this writing or visualization exercise?

Incorporate with any meditation practice and en-joy coming to your senses.

Befriending the Vagus Nerve

extending branches
extending branches

 

How do you connect with the wisdom of the body? How do you tune into stress and turn the dial to another station of the mind? Learning centering and grounding practices will open doors for you to go inside and help you live more fully outside in everyday life and relationships. We all need regulation in our lives, and there are accessible tools that our body provides us if we tap into them. Often this only takes a breath or two, so read on…

Basic knowledge of our anatomy and physiology grows understanding of ways to access increased well-being and calm—specifically, the wisdom of our good friend the vagus nerve, a powerful regulatory highway from the central nervous system to the heart and abdominal organs. The article The Neurobiology of Grace Under Pressure by athlete Christopher Bergland provides rich, translatable information. Read it, digest the information, and practice one technique both during quiet times (even brief ones–often the most valuable) and a situation you find challenging. Observe how you can learn to befriend the body under stress and modulate responses.

I love this short video! I even felt my body relax just watching Sara Lee of vaguspower demonstrate how to stimulate the vagus nerve with deep abdominal breathing.

 

2 Minutes of Laughter Exercises To Practice Alone

 

Laughter Connections
Laughter Connections

Try Laughter Yoga, a healthy mood booster shot

Laughter Yoga is based on the philosophy of “acting happiness” – tell your body what to do and your mind will follow. It is a physically-oriented exercise routine, not a mental process, allowing anyone to laugh without using jokes, humor or comedy. There are no traditional yoga postures in Laughter Yoga. It’s laughter through simple, playful exercises, deep breathing, and stretching. Laughter is a powerful way to exhale what you don’t need anymore. You can actually choose to laugh, for health, regardless of your mood or what life is bringing you. Listen to this interview from Japan with a professional yoga instructor and laughter yoga teacher, a testimony to the transformative power of laughter.

Try these exercises:

  1. First, take three deep breaths. Notice your “internal weather report” and define your mood and how your body feels in this moment. Assign this weather report a number, from 1-10, 1 being pretty stormy and 10 sunny and breezy, for example.
  2. Now, notice your breath. Is your breath shallow, in your upper chest? Or, is it in your diaphram, rib area, or in your belly? Just notice it.
  3. Lift your shoulders to your ears, hold your breath a second or two, tense your shoulders, then drop your shoulders while letting out a big HA. You may do this silently if you are somewhere that a loud HA may be disruptive to others! Repeat 2 more times.
  4. Open your mouth wide. Inhale, laugh loudly for 8-10 seconds. Or again, practice this silently, as if you are in a library. Inhale, repeat 2 more times.
  5. Get in a comfortable seated postion, or stand tall like an oak tree with your feet planted firmly on the ground, rooted. Now notice your breath and your internal weather report. What’s your number now? What do you notice?

 

 

Savoring

CLEAR SKIES, GOOD BREATH

 

During a yoga class recently, I drank in two ways our teacher encouraged us to use our breath. One was “allow your shoulders to rest on the breath”. Wow! I love that, mostly because a lot of us carry tension in our shoulders. During coaching sessions, I ask clients how they’d like to begin. If they’d like to begin with some form of relaxation exercise, such as imagery or mindfulness, or any simple breath awareness, I usually include an invitation to drop the shoulders away from the ears. That’s one of the first things I learned in yoga 16 years ago.

The second prompt our teacher, Kat gave us was to imagine our breath expanding our ribs and diaphragm out from the sides of our body. I liked that as well because it helps me visualize the breath and make it 3D.

When you see a body of water this season, stop and breathe. Water is a fundamental element of life; it’s a wonder in itself.

Here’s a video link to water lapping on the Cheasapeake SAVORING

The Regulatory Body

Vertebral
– Vertebral

 

What if you could learn ways to place a governor switch on your sympathetic nervous system, therefore awakening the more latent yet powerful parasympathetic system? Developing the skill of relaxing the body and mind is akin to conducting a defrag on your computer hard drive. It’s simply a way to decrease the ever-present clutter of the mind and soften the edges a bit. This build up of daily life as human beings prevents us from thinking clearly, making better decisions, and being more aware of the car ahead. Whether referring to the calming process as “relaxation techniques” or “meditation”,  science remains solid on how quieting the central nervous system can lead to better health. Quieting the mind has been around for thousands of years throughout religious and spiritual traditions. I encourage you to do your own research, and consider what matters to you. What health outcomes are of interest to you?

On PubMed,  several thousand articles exist on meditation, the relaxation response, and mindfulness alone.

If you’d like to start, consider beginning with the breath. It’s quick and effective to notice  your breathing. If you’re working on your laptop, walking the dog, sitting in your car at a stoplight, take a breath. Sit at your kitchen table, at your desk at work.  Take a full breath. If you like, take another one.

Some more techniques to try on, which can be practiced independently from each other.

Breathe in for counts of 4, exhale for 4. Do less if this is difficult. Take it easy.

See if you can stop at the top of the inhale, then exhale.

Notice all parts of the breath; the chest, diaphragm, and belly.

Drop the shoulders away from the ears.

Imagine the breath as a  soothing color.

Consider taking a full breath every time before you do something, like answer the phone, put your keys in the front door. Take a breath when you’re in a long line.

Consider the breath with compassion. Refrain from judging. You’re doing a great job.

Any time spent quieting the bodymind generates a healthier state. Don’t make it complicated or over commit. Simply start with the breath. That’s at the heart of the matter.

 

Your Water Center

Ocean's Edge
Ocean’s Edge

 

This summer, I’m appreciating the generative qualities of water. Water symbolizes life itself, as well as flexibility, fluidity, flow.  Often our ideas are borne near water. Have you ever noticed that some of your best thoughts and images spring forth while simply bathing, showering, swimming, or brushing teeth?

Time spent next to a lake, pond, river, or ocean is valuable. If that’s not possible for you this summer, what is possible to bring more water qualities to your life, such as evenness? Do you yearn for still waters, or ebb and flow, or more forward movement? When you are aware your day rolls more like water, what behaviors or attitudes do you embrace to allow that?

OK, so water is my theme for the summer. What’s yours? Themes with earth elements are centering, grounding, strengthening. Other unifying themes are fire, earth, and air. When do notice you need more of one kind?

Click on the link below to experience a bit of water.

Tide