Thursday, September 23, 2010

Home

My house is under construction. It's actually not a major project, most of our living area is still untouched. But there are a lot of things happening every day that other people are in charge of. Once again I have to work extra hard at letting go of expectations. Water from my shower gushing out of the ceiling downstairs? Can't control it, have to wait for the guys to come. Flooring guys arrive unexpectedly at 7am? Ok, let's get started tearing out some tiles!
I haven't been doing badly with the letting go for once, because I heard so many stories ahead of time, I guess I was more mentally prepared. I am struggling with the invasion of my space, however. I never realized how attached I am to the feeling of home. Maybe it's the privacy, or the quiet spot I can always find, the memories attached to each place, I'm not sure. But I know that I've felt ungrounded. My home is full of noisy dusty strangers and when they're gone, the dust and disarray stay as a reminder.
My yoga routine has been disrupted because I have to get ready so quickly in the morning, but today I rolled out my mat regardless. I stretched and flowed to the tune of crashing and breaking ceramic tiles, but somehow the noise didn't bother me too much. I felt so much better after I was done, and my poor stressed cats seemed to appreciate the return to routine, too.
We are living with chaos, but it will only be a few weeks more. I have to look for the sense of home where I can find it until things are back to normal. My yoga mat was home today, my own practice and my own breath brought me back to stability.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mindful Eating

This summer I spent a week at Kripalu yoga center in Lennox, MA. I loved the place, the people, the food, but one of the things I loved best surprised me a lot. They have silent breakfast every morning, and the program I was involved with actually took it a step further, and we were silent from wake time, through our initial practice, until after breakfast. That sounded really scary to me. I spend a lot of time in my head, so I envisioned worrying and thinking, or reading a magazine or book so I wouldn't have to be alone with myself. However, it turned out to be my favorite part of the day.
When I first sat down for silent breakfast, I was amazed. The room was filled with people, and almost no one was doing anything other than eating. People would acknowledge one another with a nod or smile, and choose their breakfast. I spent more time considering what I might like to eat, and I didn't rush my meals. I actually tasted my food, and savored the experience. I've read about mindful eating before, but had never attempted it prior to this trip. I really felt calmer, the food tasted better, and I never had the urge to over eat. I recognized my body cues because I was present in my body.

Reflecting on the experience, I realized that I almost never just sit and eat. I am usually reading, or surfing the internet, or playing Scrabble on my phone. I have even contemplated trying to dictate patient notes between bites, but I haven't sunk that low yet. I know food at times has become mere fuel, almost an inconvenient part of the day that I must attend to, but really don't enjoy, I just get through it as quickly as I can. I believe this attitude has contributed to a rushed feeling during my lunch break. I have also ended up with stomach upset that could be due to eating too fast, or eating things that weren't right for my body just because they were convenient. There are days I can't even remember what I ate.
Society today prides itself on moving quickly, multi-tasking and accomplishing more and more. I am starting to recognize that this comes at a cost. I remember the delicious Masala Chai tea they had at Kripalu one morning, and how I sat and sipped that cup thinking I'd never experienced a sweeter moment. How wonderful to accomplish presence and joy rather than reading one more article on the internet! I can't say I've been as good about keeping up with the mindful eating as I'd like. I can't convince my kids (ages 6 and 8) to participate in silent breakfast. But I can be mindful of how and what I'm eating, and take time to savor the food and the moment.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Worry

I've been worrying. This isn't too unusual for me, because I spent the better part of my life as a super-worrier. I could worry about just about anything, allowing it to keep me awake for hours at night, or leading me to gnaw at my fingernails until they were raw. I have made great headway on calming the worry in recent years, so this recent case has been irritating. I have decided to revisit some of my favorite ways to settle an anxious and worried mind, in the hopes of reminding myself how to tone down the mental drama.

1. Mental distraction. This works well if you are worrying during your daily activities. When the wheels start spinning, find something else to do. I like to read an entertaining but not particularly heavy book. Chick lit or a good thriller works well. Crossword or Sudoku puzzles can also give the brain another bone to chew on.

2. Physical activity. You already know, I turn to yoga. My style is Vinyasa flow, so the movement between poses combined with the breath really quiets the mind. If you aren't into yoga, taking a walk or lifting weights can serve the same purpose. I also learned a bounce technique from a Qi Gong master that I thought was amazing: simply stand with your knees and body soft and bounce up and down in place gently. Let your hands flop at your sides, your head loll from side to side, relax the spine and just bounce softly, breathing quietly. Try it for a few minutes, I think you'll be amazed at how relaxing this super-simple exercise can be!

3. Journaling. Set aside a specific period of time to write about your worries. When the time is up, close the journal and put it away. This allows the worry, but there is an endpoint. I find this most helpful before bed. I like to finish with something to change the tone, either a gratitude practice or listing 5 things that were good about the day, anything you choose to put the mind back onto something positive.

4. Mantra meditation. Simply sitting down and expecting to go into a meditative place when you're already keyed up and worried is a set-up for failure. Instead, give the mind something to focus on. You can use any phrase, it doesn't have to be Sanskrit or handed down by a guru or anything. I like So Hum, which means "I am that." It's simple but has more than one syllable, so I can easily pace it with the breath. But you can try "Peaceful" or anything that has meaning for you. Then just sit quietly and breathe in and out, thinking the mantra. If you are really unfocused and agitated, even try saying it aloud. If thoughts stray, simply come back to the words.

5. Evaluate the worries. This is another technique that doesn't try to stop the thoughts, but rather focuses on classifying them and deciding if they're worthwhile or not. So, if I'm laying there at night worried that I will forget to write a note to my child's teacher the next day, I can evaluate that thought. Is this a valid worry? Sure, I often forget things in the morning rush. Can I do anything about this worry right now? Absolutely. I can get up and write the note now and put it in her backpack. Done. Back to sleep. Alternatively, I'm worried about my health. Is this a valid worry? Sure, anyone can get sick anytime. Can I do anything about this right now? No. I can schedule my routine doctor appointment in the morning, but not at 11pm. This technique can at least allow me to "triage" my worries into things I can fix now, things I can fix later, and things that are out of my control completely and not worth getting worked up about.

Worrying hits all of us at one time or another. I find I worry less if I'm consistent with meditation and yoga, but they can't cure everything. When I get anxious, one or more of these techniques helps me to find my center again, and I've found it helpful tonight to reassess my tool box. I'm hopeful that a peaceful sleep will be my reward!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Wellness

What does wellness mean? It's a term that's thrown around quite a bit right now, I've even seen it at the massage place I go to. Is wellness synonymous with health, or are they different things? In medicine today, health is often seen as the absence of disease, as opposed to a total condition of mental and physical balance. I see wellness as a new description for that state: we are sound in body and mind, balanced and whole. Certainly we must be physically free from disease to achieve this state. I think western medicine has that pretty well covered. But how do we get to the next level, where we are truly "well"?

I think there are different routes for different people, but I believe most of us find it comes from an approach that addresses not just the body, but the mind and the heart as well. I've read multiple studies showing the emotional benefits of a spiritual practice of some kind, whether it's prayer, organized religion, or a simple belief in something greater than ourselves. Spirituality in one form or another addresses the heart, and fosters compassion towards others. We realize we aren't alone on this journey, and can recognize a greater purpose.

Use of our minds is the next step. Activities that keep us thinking prevent the decline of memory in older age. They also bring a greater sense of satisfaction than a mindless pursuit such as parking in front of the television. Reading a book, discussing politics with friends, learning something new, all form new connections in our brains, allowing expansion of our mental power. We are not stagnant, we are moving forward and growing, another way to recognize we are well.

Our bodies house our brains and our hearts. We must keep them in good shape as the body is the vessel for the soul, as I have read. Any physical activity is good for the body, walking, dancing, mowing the lawn, and, of course, yoga. Many studies have found yoga to be better than other forms of exercise for improving symptoms of depression and anxiety. Yoga also addresses the other aspects that keep us well: it keeps our minds active with meditation and philosophical lessons, and it opens our hearts to compassion and kindness. I see yoga as one path to wellness, and have felt the effects in my own life.