Monday, December 29, 2014

Meditation as a grounding practice...

Why do we meditate?
Is it to better ourselves in some way so that we can have lasting happiness?

If you sit down to meditate with a set goal such as to be happy it can turn into an exercise in frustration. Making time to meditate means we're getting off the fast track through life so that we can connect with the life that is right here. We open to our lived experience, right here, right now. Sometimes it's more challenging than others as when we get swept away by our emotions and stories. Sometimes this can feel as if we are in the middle of a tornado and unable to see things clearly. Sitting down to meditate in the midst of emotional chaos with a set expectation regarding the outcome is not meditation. It's instead another way of resisting what is happening in our lives at the moment. When we are trying to make something happen it's usually because we are in some way resisting life. Instead if we approach meditation with the intention to help ourselves. We get off the reactivity ride and shift to responding in a way that helps us open to what is happening within us.

Meditation is a practice that helps us stay connected to our lived experience moment to moment. It is a practice that can help us learn to stay grounded and calm instead of reactive and agitated. It's when we open our awareness to explore what is going on within, without judging ourselves that we can reconnect with life as it is. We let go of defensive reactions and come into direct contact with the vulnerability that lies beneath the defense. We stop living life like a character in a novel.

Notice when you're caught up in a story...

I like to say that we're great storytellers and have a habit of taking events that happen in our lives and making up stories about what it means. As a result we sometimes end up living like a character in a novel. In reality, things that happen in the world around us aren't about us. When we take things personally and react by blaming, criticizing or getting defensive we escalate the pain that then leads to suffering. Meditation practice can help us notice how that reactivity is affecting our body, mind and heart. If I'm hurt and I sit down to meditate, instead of focusing on the situation or person that triggered the hurt I can begin to notice how the hurt shows up in my body. I pause...breathe and notice is there tension in my body? Is there a heaviness around my heart? I tune into the breath and notice if there is tension or pressure there. I begin to breathe in bringing compassion to the hurt. As I breathe in and allow the hurt to be there and meet it with compassion and acceptance. The intention is to turn towards the pain instead of lashing out at others. When I am able to do this it helps me to reground myself, to soothe the emotions. It also allows me to see when I am caught up in a story filled with defensiveness and reactivity. With this awareness I can begin to respond in healing ways. Meditation can help you develop the capacity to help yourself stay connected to life instead of the midst of a story about life.

Meditation is the path that helps us come back into balance with body, mind, heart and life. It's not about perfecting ourselves, it's about freeing ourselves from the stories and reactions that can keep us stuck and disconnected from the vibrant life that is right here. 

May you be peaceful

Monday, December 8, 2014

Music to calm body, mind and heart...

The healing and calming power of music...

We find music not just by playing instruments  or listening to songs but also in nature. Walk in the forest and you'll hear a natural symphony of sounds made up of birds, insects, wind, and rain.

The composers of centuries ago often composed their music based on the sounds of nature. So music is a natural part of the world. It can also be healing, energizing and calming. Sometimes it can help in healing and soothing physical, mental and emotional pain. Other times we listen for the joy of it. Either way it can really help us shift out of a stressful state if we open to the experience of listening with body, mind and heart.

Whether listening to an orchestra, a song on the internet or the natural sound so of nature, pausing to listen and really take in these sounds can have a powerful healing effect on the body, mind and heart. It is a movement towards opening our senses and truly allowing the sounds to resonate within the body. This pausing along with tuning into our senses and receiving the sound of music can allow us to experience deep moments of peace and contentment. This in turn can help the body restore and revitalize the bodies energy and release built up tension.

Music during Restorative Yoga can help alleviate tension...
I teach yoga in a beautiful studio called Shanti 3 Yoga in Weston, Florida. As a yoga teacher I find that using music during a restorative yoga class helps calm and release the stress and tension that builds up in the body, mind and heart as we move through our hectic and busy lives. As the music plays, I invite students to soften the tension in their bodies and allow the soothing sound of the music to flow through them. This approach is different from mindfulness meditation as during meditation when we sit on the cushion the intention is open to inner experience and stay present with what is happening without pushing anything away or clinging to it. Both practices are powerful and both are paths towards healing,  clearing the mind and opening the heart. For the purposes of this post I'm focusing on music as a healing modality. 

Restorative yoga at home...
You don't have to come into a yoga studio to experience the calming and soothing effects of music. You can try it at home. I'm including a link to a beautiful song that you can play as you lay in a restorative pose.

You can choose to lay on the mat, on your back (shavasana pose) with a blanket under your head for comfort, an eye pillow to cover the eyes and calm the mind and a blanket to help keep you feeling relaxed and warm.

Turn the lights down. Lay on your mat and begin to connect with the sensation of the breath. Allow the breath to soften tension and stress in the body, mind and heart. Play the music with the intention of letting go of worries and concerns. Stay on the mat for at least 15 minutes or as long as you like and notice how you feel at the end of this practice. 

May you live with ease and peace...

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Shift from reacting to responding with a compassionate heart...

Whether you're aware of it or not we all have our hots spots or sensitive issues that go off when we're triggered by some action, word, sight or sound that sets off any feeling of pain or discomfort. I say that our default button is set on react and defend rather than relate and respond when we get triggered. It's not you're fault, my fault or anyone's. It's a survival mechanism that's helped us survive since we've been on this planet. So the problem isn't this survival mechanism. The problem starts when we are reacting to things that aren't dangerous and life threatening as if they were. When this happens I say that our default button is hyper sensitive and becomes trigger happy. When we react to situations, thoughts, external events as if they are a threat we suffer. We suffer because the moment we're triggered and go into reactive mode we either push others away, withdraw and isolate ourselves or attack with words of physical violence. So the thing that we are usually seeking, which is safety becomes elusive because of our actions. (unless you are really in danger such as being stalked by a lion, or someone is trying to mug you in which case you need to react!) It's not just safety we're seeking it is also connection. We want to feel heard, seen, understood and loved. Both safety and connection are essential to our well-being. Without them our emotional and physical well being suffers. So how do we help ourselves? 

Notice what happens to your body, mind and heart when you are triggered... way is to begin to notice what happens to your body, mind and heart when you get triggered. What triggered you isn't as important as your reaction to the trigger. So you can get caught up in the content or story or you can begin to notice how you are reacting to the situation. For example, say that I am on my way to meeting and am running late. As I get on the expressway I notice that traffic is very slow and I end up stuck in  a traffic jam for the next 30 minutes. I can either spend those 30 minutes cursing the traffic and drivers around me, beating myself up for not leaving earlier, feeling angry at my boss for scheduling a meeting at this time or I can begin to notice how I'm reacting to the situation. I might notice that my muscles are tense and I feel anxiety in my belly. Instead of feeding the anxiety with worry thoughts, I might begin to breathe and allow the anxiety to be there. Along with being present with these feelings I can bring a feeling of compassion to the anxiety in acknowledgment that this is a moment of suffering. Being compassionate is what helps alleviate the suffering and it can also help to calm the body, mind and heart. Just like this small example there are many different examples that you can use from your own life to help yourself during times of stress and suffering. These moments are pivotal in learning how to shift from living mindlessly and reacting to life to living mindfully and responding to pain with a compassionate and wakeful presence. One keeps you stuck in a place of pain and the other helps you respond to pain and move through it in a compassionate way. 

Learn to cultivate a peaceful and loving heart... the world with an open and awakened heart instead of a judgmental, stressed out and reactive body, mind and heart. 
  • Take breaks throughout your day to be present in your body and pause the torrents of thoughts, stories and reactions.
  • You might practice with one word such as Peace...breathe in peace...breathe out peace 

This is a gift of living, breathing and being present and connected with this precious life around and within. Practice compassion and loving kindness to live mindfully and awaken the heart.

May you be peaceful