In Steven Hayes' Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life, he writes about the concept of the “Mind Train”. The “Mind Train” is when we start to buy into our thoughts. He recommends cultivating other skills to deal with the internal mental processes that cause us so much suffering.
We can do this by learning how to watch your thoughts:
Hayes created the “Watching the Mind-Train” Meditation to help.
Finally, write down what you noticed when standing on the bridge watching the three trains.
Hayes, S.C and Smith, S. (2005). Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Oakland, CA. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Satchidananda, S. S. (2012). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Buckingham, VA. Integral Yoga Publications.
Everyone in yoga talks about the importance of breathing. How we don't breathe properly. How we don't use the full capacity of our lungs. How the breath can either calm us or excite us. Yada Yada Yada
But do you know how many parts of the body are actually involved in breathing and why? Probably not! Most of us don't since we just take breathing for grated.
Here's the breakdown:
1. Thoracic Cavity: It houses the heart, diaphragm, lungs and pleura. The Thoracic Cage is the rib cage (consisting of 80 joints), 12 vertebrae, and sternum.
2. Trachea: The semi-rigid passageway extends from the larynx to the primary bronchi. It is adaptable to allow movement, eating and breathing.
3. Lungs: They are where blood and air meet. Carbon oxide rich blood passes into the right of the heart and into the lungs where it interacts with the alveoli to become enriched with oxygenated blood.
4. Ribs: They are flat, deformable and elastic, most connect to sternum, 11 and 12 are floating ribs not connecting to the coastal cartilage in the front.
5. Intercostal Muscles: They are muscles of inspiration and expiration. They occupy the spaces between adjacent ribs and are arranged in two crisscrossing layers. They move the ribs closer and further apart and allow them to glide over each other.
6. Heart: It pumps the carbon dioxide rich blood to the lungs and receives the oxygenated blood from the lungs to distribute through the body. It also rests on the central tendon the diaphragm. The heart’s pericardium adheres to the diaphragm.
7. Diaphragm: It is the primary muscle of inspiration acting like a pump at the base of the lungs. It separates and connects the thorax and the abdomen.
8. Alveoli: The bronchioles subdivide into alveoli that manufacture mucus. It is where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide occurs. They crisscross the capillaries to create this exchange.
9. Bronchioles: The two bronchi divide and continue to subdivide until they are smaller bronchioles. They do not have cartilage. They contain mucus and cilia to help maintain the lungs of obstructions, which could result in Bronchitis.
Which Lead Us to the Importance of the Diaphragm Muscle
The diaphragm is the principal muscle for breathing. According to Leslie Kaminoff, “The diaphragm is the principle muscle that causes three-dimensional shape change in the thoracic and abdominal cavities." Not only is it the prime mover of the thoracic and abdominal cavities, the diaphragm anchors multiple structures including the pleura, the pericardium, and peritoneum. Thus, effecting the movement of the organs as well.
When the diaphragm moves, all the organs above and below are massaged. The organs are bathed in new blood and oxygen. On the inhale, the diaphragm lowers and on the exhale, the diaphragm relaxes. The atmospheric pressure is greater than the pressure in the lungs when an individual takes an inhale. Air will then flow into the lungs to balance the pressure. In order for the air to move in and out of the lungs freely, the diaphragm must be able to expand without restrictions.
Try this Yoga Practice to Bring Some Awareness to that Diaphragm!!
Did you notice any changes in how you breath?
Calais-Germain, B. (2006). Anatomy of Breathing. Eastland Press, Inc.: Seattle, WA.
Farhi, D. (1996). The Breathing Book: Good Health and Vitality Through Essential Breath Work. St. Martin’s Griffin: New York, NY
Kaminoff, L. and A. Matthews. (2012). Yoga Anatomy. Human Kinetics: Champaign, IL.
The simple act of smiling has a powerful effect on your life. As you face life's challenges, make smiling your secret ingredient for maintaining a happy life and a positive mindset.
It turns out that smiling and happiness are intertwined. When you feel happy, your brain releases serotonin (regulates mood), dopamine (regulates pleasure), and endorphins (relieves stress and pain) which then transmit a signal to your face to trigger a smile. When these chemicals circulate through your system, they help to lower stress and anxiety, they help to regulate heart rate and blood pressure, and they take your nervous system out of fight and flight mode.
Now here’s the fun part… when your facial muscles contract into a smile, a signal is fired back to the brain creating a feedback loop of HAPPINESS!
You have a happiness controller in your hands! You can turn a bad mood around by simply smiling. You can cheat the system and make your brain release feelings of happiness.
So, be mischievous and smile that devilish grin! Make people wonder what you’ve been up to.
“A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.”-Phyllis Diller
Have you ever heard of Compassion Training?
Compassion Training alters the activation of certain regions of the brain associated with emotional regulation. Studies suggest that compassion can be developed by activating the parts of the brain that cultivate understanding the suffering of others, utilize executive and emotional control, and engage in reward processing. Through these reciprocal connections in the brain, healthy and productive reactive responses to stimuli are created. Compassion Training creates more altruistic behavior-empathy
What is Empathy?
Empathy is defined as a phenomenon, which can only be understood within the dyadic relationship, an interactive experience or state of separateness and sharing. Empathy is the ability to recognize “the other” as similar to the self and makes possible the common experience of an action or emotion. Empathy serves as a healing force within relationships as it reduces aggression and antisocial behavior, and correlates to forgiveness.
Ultimately, an empathic person creates a sense of safety. Safety is a prerequisite to establishing helpful strong social bonds. By being present-centered (using eye contact, softening your voice, having warmth in your voice, being emotionally attuned and using in-the-moment engagement) you enable people to shut down their defenses, which is itself healing.
How can you use Compassion Training to cultivate more empathy towards others?
Weng, H. Y., Fox, A. S., Shackman, A. J., Stodola, D. E., Caldwell, J. Z., Olson, M. C., Rogers, G. M., & Davidson, R. J. (2013). Compassion training alters altruism and neural responses to suffering. Psychological science, 24(7), 1171–1180. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612469537
I was once hired at a recreation center for a class called “All Levels Hatha Yoga”. The core group had been taking this class for a year. I soon realized they had never been taught alignment, pranayama...well, let's just say, they pretty much hadn't really been taught anything "yoga" in the course of the year. They were also all over 60 years old. Not surprisingly, I had to teach with a lot of modifications and props.
After nine months, a director (a non-yoga instructor) takes my class (they develop a performance assessment based on one class) for my yearly appraisal. A week later, we have my performance discussion.
Director: You do this weird breathing thing that I’ve never seen.
Me: You mean pranayama? No other yoga teacher here does pranayama? So, I then explained what pranayama was and why I have the class do it.
Director: We advertise this as a Hatha Yoga class. Why are you not linking breath to movement?
Me: Do you know what Hatha Yoga means? So I explained Hatha, Vinyasa, etc. and the differences between styles.
Director: Why don’t you use modifications like other instructors?
Me: The poses are already "modified" to the level of the students. I don’t show them the hardest version and then modify down-that’s demoralizing.
Director: You need to make the class harder, so more students come.
Me: So, the students you have are not important and you would rather I drive them out of the recreation center in order to increase numbers. It sounds like you want young students and don’t value your older students. You also understand that if I make it harder-your current students will get hurt, right?
And so the discussion went….which leads me lead this crazzzy concept called ETHICS!
There are certain values that informed my decision-making in this particular situation. They include:
What Where My Options:
So What Did I Do?
Based on my professional and personal ethics which are ultimately framed and defined by the yama-s and niyama-s, I could not stay in a place with that type of moral and ethical compass. I gave notice and I quit.
I use the yama-s and niyama-s daily in my professional and personal life. They guide me in developing classes and therapeutic offerings that are non-harming, truthful, honest and informed. I always put the student or client first and meet him/her/them where they are on the yoga journey. This has always included making my services adaptable and accessible both physically and financially.
How do the yama-s and niyama-s frame your daily life?
What ethics or values do you hold dear? Personally or Professionally?
How do you handle a situation when someone crosses those boundaries?
Albert Camus: "A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world."
In the recent past, I had an extremely difficult supervisor. I couldn't concentrate at work due to the on-going conflict with my supervisor. My stomach stayed in knots. No amount of asana (yoga poses) or pranayama (yogic breathing techniques) ever relieved the stress. My self-worth and confidence suffered.
So I Turned Up The Volume Of My Meditation Practice
Through meditation, I was able to think more clearly, and be less reactive or impulsive when dealing with him. In other words, I didn't quit my job due to my emotions and make myself and my family homeless. I was able to use reason instead of just my gut response.
Meditation enabled me to keep these aspects of my Self in sync-my head and my heart. It empowered me to think clearly, in a non-reactive (meaning destructive) manner, and it motivated me to find a new job by decreasing my negativity and increasing the innate confidence I already had in my abilities.
Obviously, looking for a new job was a reactive response to the on-going situation with my supervisor. However, it is a healthy and productive reactive response as opposed to just quitting my job. The on-going conflict increased my passion (my heart, my gut) to create a strategy (my head) necessary to illicit change in my employment and in my life.
By cultivating a balance between the head and the heart, I was able to develop a healthy response to a life situation.
What Is This Balance Called? Equanimity
There are many definitions of Equanimity. They usually say something like "mental calmness", "composure", or "even temper in difficult situations." I personally define is as "not loses my shit."
With equanimity, we are able to engage with the world around us and see the changing patterns. Equanimity enables us to recognize that difficult thoughts, worries and feelings will change and pass.
Think about the world around us in this past year-COVID, the presidential election, George Floyd, and list goes on. The news cycle was contained with events, people and actions that caused many of us anxiety, worry, fear, and anger. Cultivating equanimity is a resource that can help us navigate all this unpredictability of the world without losing our balance.
How Can We Cultivate Equanimity?
Meditation!! Bring our heart and head in sync with each other. Create a synergy between the rational and the emotional selfs. Meditation lets us dive deeper. It lets us explore how all the parts of our SELF are intertwined. It reduces those fluctuations of mind chatter (yogas chitta vritti nirodha). It reduces attachments to unhelpful emotions...so that you can have an even temper in difficult situations. Meditation gives us the tools to develop stillness...quieting the ruminations, the what ifs, the could have beens, the attachments to identity or self-worth and the attachment to things, people and outcomes you can't change.
An Equanimity Practice
Take a few moments and when you are ready journal about your experience and throughout the day bring some awareness to meeting everything (good and bad) anchored and balanced like a mountain.
Last year before COVID, I wrote a piece in my monthly newsletter about yoga and donuts. Now that a year has passed-I thought I would revisit my love of donuts and dealing with stress.
This time last year, I had just completed my first trimester after I told myself that a degree in Yoga Therapy was "WHAT I HAD TO DO!". I had the winter break off and life was normal again; if just for a brief month or so. Fast forward to now.
My, oh my, how things change!
December 2020 finished a year in which I am now over halfway complete with school, I switched jobs, I telework 100%, my plantar fasciitis kills me from sitting too much, and I eat less but still weigh the same. Sounds stressful right? Now, let's put this in perspective. Just one word is all ya need:
The vaccine is being distributed and my number #1 priority is manhandling my parents to the front of that line.
So when I weigh the importance of getting my parents vaccinated to my supposed stressful "issues", my issues are petty, frivolous and ooze entitlement. That ain't cute!!! It makes me a yucky person so I'm working on fixing that--
Disclaimer: Before anyone blasts me, I also know everyone deals with stress differently. All I'm saying is...don't be a douche.
Here's What I Did To Put Stress Into Perspective
This past summer to combat this insanity (meaning my own self-obsessiveness-not COVID, it's supposed to be self-obsessive...it's a virus, self-obsession is its M.O.), I created a list of important things to remember and I plan to revise/renew it on New Year's Day.
This list is different than a "gratitude" list because you can be grateful for everything you have and still be an ass-wipe...the richest man in the world is grateful he isn't that homeless person he loathes. So scrap that gratitude list for a moment-you can come back to it later.
We like to put the cart before the horse and gratitude lists are easy. The real first step when dealing with stress, for me at least, is not being a self-obsessive shitty person...period.
To put it more eloquently, if you practice what the Yoga Sutras call AHIMSA, it puts everything into perspective. Ahimsa stems from our ability to have compassion and respect for all life. Ahimsa is kindness and empathy.
So...back to my parents and vaccinations-if I didn't practice Ahimsa, would I care if they got COVID or got vaccinated. Now take my parents out of the equation-Would I care if anyone got COVID or got vaccinated? No-the only thing I would worry about, the only thing that would cause me "stress", would be that I can't lose any weight. Woe is me!
It's more than just being grateful-it's getting down there in the mud and muck with people because you "know" how it feels. EMPATHY!! For me, that is where REAL gratitude originates and where real stress reduction starts.
Here's A Snippet Of My List:
...And so my list goes.
(NOTE: If you read enough of my blogs, you may notice I'm list maker...gratitude lists, don't be a shit bird lists, grocery lists, bulleted lists, lists about making lists, etc. Forewarning-I also have an unhealthy obsession with calendars.).
Make Your Own STRESS LESS AND LOVE MORE LIST, then:
Did My List Work?
Did writing my list and taping it to the bathroom mirror help relieve my stress this past year? Did it make me more empathetic? Did it stop my complaints about my plantar fasciitis hurting? Sometimes
Do I still advise (just like a year ago) yoga, self-care, getting rest, going for walks, meditating, reading, etc. when dealing with stress in addition to making lists and checking them twice? Absolutely!
Does eating donuts still make everything better when I fail miserably, and get wrapped up in my trivial stress? ALWAYS!!!! After-all, I am the girl with the Rewards Card for Krispy Kreme
But I'm working on it...baby steps and a few donut holes at a time.
Compassion=Concern for Others' Suffering
Empathy=Feel What the Other Person is Experiencing
Assertive Communication=Speaking Your Truth
Through compassion, empathy, and assertive communication, you can cultivate loving-kindness.
What is loving-kindness? You may have heard of Metta Meditations. Metta is Sanskrit for "loving-kindness". Loving-Kindness is friendliness, amity, and good-will. It is an active interest in others.
Compassion for others infuses assertive communication with warmth and caring while empathy helps to understand an individual’s inner workings. These skills lead to interacting with loving-kindness regardless of your personal suffering and leads to wishing the other person wellness. This amazing combination (compassion, empathy and assertive communication) dissipates the feelings of ill-will that our brain can and does create.
Which leads me to my husband. He is a fixer. A fixer of fixers. The Chief Fixer. A man who thinks he can fix any thing, any one, and any situation. And this is why I married him...I don't mean because he can fix my car or the heat pump or just about anything mechanical. I mean he is helper. He has this ginormous heart and goes out of his way to FIX all the wrongs of the world. He spends hours helping a local school (because the dads don't volunteer-we don't have any kids). He spends weekends rehabbing old cemeteries (the families have forgotten them-we don't know anyone buried in them). He just is a nice guy who wants to take care of everyone.
He is the guy who will give you the shirt off his back-literally!!
So...sometimes people manipulate that kindness. They know if they fain distress, he will come to the rescue, take over and fix everything. Those people don't have to be accountable for their own behavior...because they are users. We all know the type!
I get frustrated with the hubs because he takes on stress and responsibilities that are not his to take on. The very trait I love him for, pisses me off.
...which leads us to arguments. We have all been there, right?
Here's what I try to do...it's hard and I don't always succeed but you might find these steps helpful for cultivating loving-kindness and communicating in a more healthy and helpful way:
1. Check in. For example:
3. Become aware of triggers for ill-will. Don't focus on potential harm to yourself or your family and don't exaggerate the events occurring.
These steps enable me to communicate more openly, be less reactive, and be more supportive of my husband and his really big heart.
How is this a yoga practice? Glad you asked!
In the Yoga Sutras, the first two limbs of the Eightfold Path are the yama-s and niyama-s. Each contains 5 principles (10 in total) to follow on your path to enlightenment. Three of these are:
What other yama-s and niyama-s can you think of?
Try These Practices to Cultivate Loving-Kindness and Effective Communication:
Rosenberg, S. (Director). (1967). Cool Hand Luke [Film]. Jalem Productions.
Hanson, R. (2009). Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Let’s discuss a topic near and dear to many yogis’ hearts-Journaling. Being a yoga instructor, I continually hear how my students love to journal, I take yoga trainings and they make me journal, and I constantly read how journaling is great for the soul.
Let’s be frank, I’m not the journaling type but I definitely can see the benefits and I’m working on being more consistent with it. Normally since I have a long commute to and from work, I process my daily life in my head. However, I think journaling may be faster—you remove yourself from the situation at hand and become the witness.
Sometimes, I get bogged down in the day-to-day activities and lose sight of what is truly important to me. Like everyone, I can lose sight of my connection to my dharma, my true identity, etc. and journaling can help bring everything back into focus.
Personally, when I take the time to journal it makes me less reactive towards others. Not necessarily kinder-but less likely to rip someone’s (say…like my husband) head off. Journaling makes me reflect on what I appreciate about others and why they are in my life (good or bad). It also makes me realize how I judge others based on the expectations I set for myself. Everyone is doing the best that they can and I’m learning how to be content with whatever the outcomes are…which is really hard for a control freak like me.
I also think journaling helps me grasp how it is related to Ego and identifying with the Ego. I’m learning to get out of the way of myself and the load of malarkey that I carry as if it were the true me. This creates barriers and walls that I use to protect myself…which impacts my relationships with others.
I realize this by seeing it laid out bare in a journal entry. It is very eye opening.
Journaling helps me process the information I already have (I know this stuff! Those duh! moments) and apply it to access a deeper place. I am a head-y person and analyzing logical information (journal entries) to gain wisdom is something I think I will always be working on.
Ultimately, I take the wisdom gained and apply it to understand the nature of SELF—that is a leap of faith-not only in the process but in myself and my inherent nature; that connection with something greater than myself. Journaling makes me step back and look at how my lifestyle and behaviors impact my true nature.
I hope to continue this process called journaling to make better choices.
NOW LET'S START JOURNALING:
Start easy...Keep it simple!
Journal every day for next two weeks (since i bet, you're cooped up in the house anyway!)
• Write down ONE thing that disturbed your peace
• Write down WHY it disturbed your peace
• Write down HOW you reacted
After two weeks, go back and re-read your entries. Did anything change? Did your reactions change? Did the things that bother you change? There is no right or wrong answer-just notice if anything shifted.
Then keep going...don't stop...keep writing!
Research has shown gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
Gratitude is an action!
It is not happiness that brings us gratitude
It is gratitude that brings us happiness
Let's reflect on the many things we have been blessed with this year.
The quarantine has meant more time together as families and has reinforced the importance of human connection and friendship. Remember heroes come from all walks of life and as we enter the season of giving, now more than ever, be grateful for the support of your community.
Gratitude Exercise: Take some time to journal about how this year has brought gratitude into your life. Who might you add to this list (people, pets, things, events)?
Inspired by and adapted from Maryland University of Integrative Health's weekly gratitude email.
I AM Boundless Bliss Yoga. Just me. I'm a one-lady band. I'm a yoga therapist. I didn't start out to be a yoga therapist, I just wanted to learn more and SHAAAZZAMM...here I am.