This month has been hectic. More than the usual hectic.
We saw two of our Thai exchange student friends off at the airport (early flights out meant waking at 4am). We helped my 83 year old mother who recently had back surgery pack up the house she has lived in for the past 19 years, and move into a (MUCH smaller) independent living apartment. We somehow made room for my father’s collection of approximately 1,000 LPs in our home (a process that involved supporting a wall with steel poles and flanges!) We registered our new Taiwanese student for school and started making a room for him – he’ll arrive in August. And yes, he gets to sleep in the room with the LPs. (Where else could we put them?) We nurtured Shanti through finishing 10th grade and today she flew to Seattle — unescorted — to visit with a friend there before she leaves for Japan to study at a language immersion school in Fukuoka for the month of July. And of course, all of that goes on while we’re both working full time, walking the dogs 3 times a day, food shopping, cooking, doing dishes, and falling behind on laundry. Oh, and how could I forget, we also had our roof repaired this month.
And I discovered something useful about myself (Self discovery seems to be the bright side of all things exhausting). I got to see my top 3 ways to cope with stress. These are the strategies I seem to reach for first, and fortunately two out of three are accessible while I’m on the go, and they’re all healthy so I thought they’re worth sharing.
1. Silence. My number 1 way to cope with stress is to turn everything off. Turn off the radio in the car. Turn off the TV at home. Turn off sound. The less auditory stimuli, the better. When I’m stressed my head is already noisy enough without adding any more noise from the outside. Quiet outside, quiet inside. Silence helps reduce my feeling of being overwhelmed. It simplifies and limits what’s coming at me.
2. Clean. When I feel stressed, I clean. Getting the space around me organized makes me feel more organized inside. When things are clean and orderly, it’s like I’ve made the environment quieter. Environmental silence. Messiness is a kind of noise. At least it is for me. It’s too distracting. I don’t know, maybe that’s a little OCD, but it’s selective OCD — I can happily postpone cleaning most of the time.
3. Appreciating beauty. This one, like silence, is really portable. You can do it anywhere. This is not the kind of appreciation that happens when you try to be grateful. It’s just spontaneous noticing of hidden treasures, happy little distractions from whatever it is that weighs on you. I don’t go looking for them. It almost seems like they look for me! They jump out at me. Grab my attention for just the instant it takes to switch background and foreground. For that moment, the stress fades into background, as the beauty comes forward, more vivid, more real. And I feel better. A smiling baby in a grocery store. The smell of ground coffee. (I have to confess here that I sniff bulk coffee dispensers). A cloud that’s an unusual color. Overhearing a kind exchange between strangers. The perfect word in a sentence – now that’s a thing of beauty.
Use the comment button below and tell me, what are your top 3 healthy stress relievers?
What was said to the rose that made it open was said to me
here in my chest.
Had a wonderful, intense, delicious Retreat last weekend! One of the experiences that is very powerful and healing for people is the breathwork. So I thought it might be helpful to give you a little background.
There are many forms of breathwork: integrative breathwork by Jacquelyn Small, rebirthing-breathwork by Leonard Orr and Sondra Ray, holotropic breathwork by Dr Stanislav Grof, vivation by Jim Leonard and Phil Laut.
They each have many features in common, and share similarities to yogic practices such as pranayama.
When Charles and I were first experienced breathwork, introduced to it by a couple who had studied with Leonard Orr, the instructions we received were simple: Pull on the inhale, relax on the exhale, and connect every breath. They also told us to do the process until we were complete and “you’ll know when you’re complete.” Simple enough, right? I mean, we all breathe.
But after a single breathwork experience we knew that how we breathe has an extraordinary impact on our consciousness. We experience this in Kai Chi Do too – The movements and the music are great, but the combination of the breath and the movements brings you into a new, broader state of awareness.
Breathing is literally the way we interact with the world. When we pull on the inhale, we’re pulling in Life. When we exhale, we’re releasing the parts we don’t need. We don’t need to force them away. We just let them go. We give and we receive. Out and in, in and out. Breathing is an energy exchange.
Some breathwork leaders believe in what’s called cellular memory – the idea that memory isn’t just stored in your brain, it’s stored in the entire body. Cellular memories include suppressed emotions held in our bodies, like armor. The emotions we suppress tend to he the ones that cause us pain, so we walk around with our emotional pain in our bodies, a part of our identity. We think they’re who we are. But they’re just emotions, just memories of the past. We don’t need to hold onto them. We’ve just locked them up. One way to let go of the pain of the past, held in our bodies, is through relaxed, connected breaths. We let Life in with the breath.
When the emotions surface, you just keep breathing, and your body has the wisdom to just let them go. Your body knows – if you just trust it and don’t let your thinking get in the way of your air. That’s one of the things I love about breathwork – My nose does all the work and my job is just to get out of the way.
Of course you can’t control it. You don’t get to choose what you want to breathe about. As they taught Shanti in kindergarten, “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” Sometimes breathwork brings up memories. Sometimes it brings up feelings. And sometimes it just brings a bright, spacious awareness. We take what we get, and we trust that it’s what we need. We sit as the witness to our own experience and keep breathing. Until the breath brings us into a feeling of completion, a feeling of relief and resolution. In my very first breathwork session, I forgave my mother. And I didn’t even know I needed to.
What’s left when you let all the stuff go? All the stuff that’s not in harmony with Life. What’s left when you let all that go?
There’s a point, a delicious point in breathwork, when you’re not trying to do the breathing anymore – It’s the point where you finally let Life breathe you.
When you allow your mood to be determined by circumstances, your well being goes up and down. How you feel is contingent on things turning out a certain way and when they don’t turn out that way or even come close to turning out that way, then you’re down. And then you’re up only when things start to work out in a way you’re attached to.
It’s like riding a wave. The wave is going up and coming down. There’s ebbs and flows.
If you sit in the position of the witness, you’re able to watch things go up and down. And you’re better able to navigate. The waves aren’t carrying you with them. The witness is in the position to see opportunities as they manifest.
The witness is just witnessing. The witness doesn’t have any attachments. The witness doesn’t have the ups and the downs. The witness is just reviewing the whole scene. When you are in the perspective of the witness, you’re able to see the path of least resistance to what you want. You can see the next step. It will reveal itself in front of you because it is just about taking the next step – instead of being about the need you think you have to satisfy NOW.
Through the eyes of the witness, you’ll see an opening – even if it doesn’t make complete sense. You get an awareness of the action to take. The witness has the benefit of intuition, but it’s also combined with knowledge that you have of the circumstances. It’s what you know and what you understand, but it’s more than that. It’s an awareness of the flow.
Consider taking a “mini-retreat” as the witness. This is the kind of retreat you can do in 10 or 15 minutes. A retreat is being present in the moment. Sitting on the porch can be a retreat.
There’s a part of you that knows the right action to take in a given moment. It’s your inner advisor. You just need to regain that trust in yourself. The more you do it, the more that trust increases.
I really think this video captures the Spirit of Water in Kai Chi Do. Do the breath and the movement and your mind quiets, and your energy starts to flow. Then your awareness expands and you feel connected to your Self and the Source of who you are. Give it a try.
The music is “Tara” by K-Liv, available on Jamendo.com
I work with many people who have chronic back pain and we talk a lot about avoiding pain triggers – no twisting, no heavy lifting, use good body mechanics. Recently, one of my clients told me that he had to avoid triggers of his mind. He was talking about how he avoids depression and stays clean despite his physical pain. And he’s been very successful.
So how do you avoid triggers of your mind? You can take a few lessons from your back.
- Don’t reach while you’re standing on a ladder. Always start where you are, and pick the fruit that’s within reach. Don’t try to stretch to the inaccessible just because you see something you want over there. Move the ladder if you have to – meaning you find a new approach. Or find a new tree. But don’t overreach. If you do, you’ll either get frustrated or have a fall.
- Wear good shoes. I talk to so many people who’ve gone for all kinds of back care – physical therapy, massage, trigger point injections, you name it – only to discover that the problem wasn’t really in their back. They were walking funny, and the foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone and the ankle bone’s connected to the knee bone and the knee bone’s connected to the hip bone and the….well, you get the idea. A little foot problem can throw the whole shebang out of whack. When it comes to your mind, it’s a matter of checking out what you are standing on – What’s important to you? What meaning have you found? In other words – what’s your foundation? Does it keep you in a healthy alignment? Or do you need a new pair of shoes?
- Pay attention to what you’re doing. Some of the biggest acute pain episodes I see happen when people just do things without thinking. They’re off in their minds somewhere while their body is doing something else until – WHAM! You can’t avoid triggers if you’re not paying attention to what you’re doing. You have to be present. You have to be bring your awareness to the present moment and make choices about what you can and can’t do. You have to define some healthy boundaries.
- Intervene when the pain is small. Another good reason to be fully present. You’ve got to be paying attention to how you feel to be able to notice pain when it’s still small. Then, you’ve got to be willing to interrupt what you’re doing and make some changes before the pain gets so bad that whatever it is you’re doing screeches to an abrupt halt and puts you into spasms. And it’s much easier to change direction when the momentum is small.
- Get distracted. It’s a paradox, I know, but getting distracted and paying attention can work together. It’s called focus. Getting distracted isn’t the same as ignoring pain or pretending it’s not there. And it’s not numbness. Getting distracted is making a conscious choice about where you want to put your attention. You choose to focus on what feels better. One of the most effective strategies for coping with pain – in your back or in your head – is to put your attention on something else.
- Don’t push through the pain. There are teachers and coaches who will tell you to “push through the wall”. We know some of them. We’ve studied with some of them. But we don’t agree with them. Pain is a signal. Your body (or mind) is flashing a red light, yelling “STOP!” If you try to push through back pain, you make it worse – much worse. You do more damage. It’s no different with your mind. If your mind is screaming “PAIN!” don’t keep pushing yourself down that same line of thinking. You don’t undo pain by causing yourself more pain. And if your mind is screaming “FEAR!” maybe it’s because you’re not ready to do whatever it is you fear. It doesn’t mean you should stop there, immobilized. But we don’t believe it means you should just “push through the wall.” Fear can signal two things – REAL DANGER! or the need for more preparation. Listen to which of these it is.
- Pace yourself. This goes a long with “don’t push through the pain.” Don’t keep pushing when what you need to do is pull. Have a balance in your life. Make sure you’re having some fun. Take time for relaxation. It really puts things into perspective – Let’s you step back from whatever is troubling you and just give it a rest.
- Get a good night’s sleep. If you don’t allow yourself enough time to sleep – or if you’re not sleeping well – your pain will seem worse than it really is because you’re more sensitive to it. So skip the midnight snack. Quit falling asleep in front of the TV and just go to bed.
- Don’t go there. Ever see those wide black elastic belts for back support? They actually have long vertical “spines” in them, called “bones,” that poke you in the ribs if you try to bend too far. If a thought hurts, don’t let your mind go there.
- Use support. Those elastic belts also give support where your muscles may be lacking. To avoid triggers of the mind, it helps to have support. Somebody to remind you (and maybe even give you a gentle poke) if you’re going too far in the wrong direction and give you a little extra strength until you build up your muscles.
Anyone who has lived in chronic pain knows – you either find a way to live with it and manage it, or it controls your life. It’s a choice that has to be made every day. You may have to exercise self-management moment by moment, but when you do, the pain yields.
And when all the strategies you use to cope become habits that serve you without any conscious effort on your part, you’ve begun to adapt – to learn a new way of living. The pain may still be there, but it’s not who you are. It has no power over you. It may even disappear.