Posts tagged ‘trauma’

December 3, 2018

Mindfulness Intentions for the New Year

The frenzy of the holiday season is the perfect time to set some mindfulness intentions for the new year. Sometimes the simple act of giving ourselves permission to be mindful has a calming effect. That provides an immediate benefit. Planning now for mindfulness in the new year ensures the possibility of enjoying positive long-term health effects as well.

While the idea of mindfulness may be calming for some, it can be scary for others. What is it exactly? Is it difficult? How much time does it take? Is it religious? Do I have to chant? Do I need crystals or essential oils or a stay in a yurt? These questions may send you into a tailspin before you even get started.
waterfall
For years, I was intrigued by yoga but afraid to participate. I wasn’t afraid of the postures per se. I just had a subconscious aversion to moving my body in a way that might release the feelings I tightly held in my solar plexus and gut. I knew I had this without knowing it. The ambivalent need to hold myself physically frozen in certain ways is the legacy of trauma and difficult to give words.

It took years of learning to sit still and practicing somatic experiencing therapy before I rolled out a mat. It was another two years before I tried a guided meditation. I’m not sure it could have happened any other way for me, but these practices have so improved my inner life that I wish I had known the benefits much sooner.

What is Mindfulness?

Before I talk about the researched health benefits of mindfulness, let me tell you a little more about the practice itself. First, foremost, and most importantly your practice is YOURS. It can look like whatever you want it to look like.

You do not have to wear a certain type of clothes. You do not have to chant. You do not have to pray. You do not have to attend a class. You can practice a few minutes per week or a few hours. You can choose your instructor and change instructors at will. You can practice in a class or at home alone. You can follow along with the instructor or modify your practice and meet the instructor back at a pose that feels like the right next move. Mindfulness is about being kind to yourself, being aware of your feelings, thoughts, and body sensations without judging them, and breathing.

Yes, there are instructors who approach yoga like a typical gym workout. I do not choose those. That’s not the type of session from which I receive the most benefit. There are yin yoga sessions that are all about letting go of tension and softening into a pose. There are instructors who specialize in yoga for trauma. Video streaming makes finding the perfect fit easier than ever.
yoga
Health Benefits of Mindfulness

If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) along with celiac disease, mindfulness can decrease the severity of symptoms according to recent research. That sounds like some welcome relief. Mindfulness has also been shown to improve both physical and psychological quality of life for those with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Research also shows that mindfulness is helpful for depression and can actually change the brains of trauma victims. It is increasingly incorporated into the treatment of symptoms resulting from PTSD and childhood trauma.

Practical Tools

A couple of weeks ago I re-injured an old knee injury. Not only was my knee hurting, but my hip and back were very tense and I was coughing like crazy due to a cold. Although I was exhausted, I could not relax. After about 30 minutes of feeling miserable, I put myself in a comfortable recliner and turned on a guided meditation. In less than 15 minutes, I felt relaxed, calm, and ready to crawl in bed and get some sleep. My knee was still sore, but the surrounding tension was gone and I no longer felt restless.

Having that sort of tool available feels like magic! As you know, tension can build upon tension until you feel like you’re spinning and everything hurts. Just knowing there’s a simple way to feel better can prevent ever getting to that point. That’s a powerful benefit!

Perhaps because I only started meditating after years of practicing yoga, I feel confused when I hear people talking about how difficult it is. All you have to do is to breathe and be present. (Okay, admittedly that can bring up unfinished emotional business and maybe that’s why people think meditation is hard. Thing is, that has nothing to do with meditation and everything to do with the emotional business they are trying to avoid.) Like all mindfulness practices, meditation can look like anything that works for you. There’s no pressure to do it “right”. Anything you read or hear that indicates otherwise is misinformation.

While research into the psychological benefits of mindfulness tends to focus on lessening depression or calming the amygdala, it can also change self-talk. I became aware of this when I participated in a Daring Way class earlier this year. As we assessed our self-talk for shame and guilt messages, I realized that I feel no need to shame or guilt myself on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean I never feel shame or guilt, they just aren’t default states for me. I can tell you without hesitation that mindfulness has significantly influenced my self-talk in a positive way.

Intentions for the New Year

My 7-month-old granddaughter has spent four months in the hospital this year. All of those were in CVICU and her condition was critical for over a month. She has had two open chest heart surgeries and several other surgical procedures. She continues to be medically fragile. Three weeks ago, the cardiologist carried her from admitting to CVICU himself because he was concerned that she would code on the elevator.

It has been a challenging year for her parents, her 2-year-old brother, her other grandparents and me. It literally takes all of us to keep the household going and some sense of normalcy for the 2-year-old. While we are hoping to avoid additional surgery next year, there’s no way to predict what will happen. We just know that the risk of hospitalization remains high.

When times are difficult, practicing mindfulness is a way to be kind to myself. With that in mind, I intend to carve out time for yoga every week. My goal is 2 1/2 hours minimum. If that means that the laundry waits unfolded on the couch for a day or two, so be it. If it means I must forego a social activity, it is worth it.

There may be weeks during which I do not make my goal. I could be sick or traveling or otherwise obligated. Don’t worry, I won’t shame or guilt myself and it won’t be hard for me to pick back up where I left off. That’s the thing about finding a practice that makes you feel good – you WANT to come back again and again.

I don’t have any specific intention for meditation other than to incorporate it as needed. That could change as the year progresses.

While it’s possible to practice gratitude through intention without yoga or meditation, it is almost impossible to practice yoga or meditation without gratitude. A feeling of appreciation for the strength, ease, energy, and resilience of your body begins to naturally flow. Observing this opens the door to other feelings of gratitude.

I may not keep a gratitude journal next year. While I like that practice, at this moment I prefer feeling and expressing gratitude in the moment. I intend to verbalize my gratitude to others at every opportunity.

The Challenge for Improvement

You may have noticed that my intentions so far are for things I like and want to do anyway. That won’t necessarily push me toward growth. With the intent of self-improvement, I plan to challenge myself to practice grace: as in a disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency. You’d think this would be easy because I value grace when it’s extended to me, but the truth is, it is difficult for me to practice.

Typically, grace must be extended when someone has wronged you or fallen short of your expectations. Depending on the circumstances, repeated real aggressions or perceived injustice can be a big trigger for me. Clearly, I have not healed all of the wounds I carry from the wrongdoing of others. Practicing grace can be a bottom-up piece of the healing process.

Just thinking about this intention makes me feel angry. That’s good. It means I’m on point. I will have to sit with this for a moment because I do not yet know what I want this grace to look like. I intend to be kind to and honor myself in the process. Right now, it sounds impossible for me to be kind to myself and extend grace to anyone who habitually makes my life more difficult. Experience tells me that the point for healing lies in the middle of this dilemma.

It will take some reflection for me to become clear on how to begin practicing grace. That’s why I have to start setting intentions for the new year early. I know that having a clear picture in my mind to serve as a guide makes it possible for me to accomplish things that seem impossible today.

The specific path will unfold over time in ways I cannot anticipate. When I feel discouraged, I often rely on Rori Raye’s mantra: Trust your boundaries. Feel your feelings. Choose your words. Be surprised.

Mindfulness helps me know where my boundaries should be. It allows me to reconnect with my body so I can feel. It changes my focus so I can choose the best words. It allows me to let go of an anticipated outcome and be surprised by real experience. Since we often anticipate the worst, these surprises can be the best!

I intend to relish every good surprise in the new year! I hope you will too.

https://traumahealing.org/about-us/

https://www.yogaanytime.com/class-view/1742/video/Yoga-What-is-Trauma-by-Kyra-Haglund

https://yogawithadriene.com/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3480312/

https://nccih.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/031912

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21691341

https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02794376

https://www.psychotherapy.net/article/body-keeps-score-van-der-kolk

https://www.mindful.org/the-science-of-trauma-mindfulness-ptsd/

https://www.va.gov/PATIENTCENTEREDCARE/Veteran-Handouts/An_Introduction_to_Yoga_for_Whole_Health.asp

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/strategic-patience/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/speed-kills/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/yoga-perfect-home-workout/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/notice-what-feels-good-to-improve-the-feeling-in-your-gut/

https://blog.havetherelationshipyouwant.com/the-rori-raye-mantra/

June 19, 2018

Notice What Feels Good to Improve the Feeling in Your Gut

When you’re in distress, it’s hard to notice what feels good. If your head hurts, it draws your attention. If your tummy hurts, it draws your attention. If you suffer a loss, the resulting sadness, emptiness and fear draw your attention. When four or five difficult things happen during a short period of time, the feeling in your gut may be so stressful it can become increasingly difficult to notice what feels good.

I suppose it’s the same phenomenon as the squeaky wheel. If some part of us is screaming for attention, that’s where our energy goes. Unfortunately, over a long period of time this shift in focus can become a habit. When the focus on distress becomes intolerable, we tend to do anything we can to avoid feeling it. We often numb ourselves with work, shopping, sex, exercise, binge-watching, gaming, alcohol, or drugs.

Is there a way to feel the good in the midst of hardship?

You’ll find a lot of things written about practicing gratitude. I’ve written some myself. You’ll find a lot of information about being present in the moment. You’ll find resources on showing up authentically and practicing vulnerability. You’ll hear psychological professionals toss around the term self-care. You’ll hear religious leaders espouse prayer. Yeah, yeah, yeah. There is merit to all of these practices, but if you’re white-knuckling yourself into doing them, you may need to go backward to go forward.

Over the past few years as I’ve become able to sit still, able to practice yoga, able to know that intellectual insight will follow trusting my body’s signals, I have become increasingly aware that ease, comfort, stability, and balance are often present when I slow down and shift my focus.

After noticing a feeling of tension in my back, I may notice a feeling of ease in my right abdomen. If I hold onto that feeling of ease, I may feel my back relax. When I feel anger or agitation begin to bubble up, I may notice that synchronizing my movement and breathing causes the tension to quickly dissipate. Remembering that when some part of my body is working, another part is at ease allows me to shift my focus to notice ease more often.

It is this noticing of physical ease and comfort that helps me unknot the discomfort in other parts of my body. The unknotting of my mind always follows. Yes, always. The shift is often tiny. The key is making the space to notice. It is in the noticing that I reconnect with my body. It is in the noticing that I reconnect with real emotions. It is through breathing that I build resilience, confidence, and safety.

Notice that the only connection here is with myself? Notice there is no analysis required? Notice that I don’t try to figure anything out? Notice that I am not forcing myself to do anything? I can simply breathe and notice. Breathe and notice. Breathe and notice.

I have gone back to absolute basics. It sounds so simple. It is and it isn’t. If you’re like me and surrender feels like giving up, it’s one of the hardest concepts in the world! It has literally taken me years to even begin to surrender and I am still a beginner.

If you stabilize your world through control, hold your breath, or muscle through difficult situations, this post may seem like the most ludicrous thing you’ve ever read. When you reach the point that all of that muscling through leaves you with anxiety and constant panic, come back. Read it again.

The bottom line is, yes there is a way to feel good during hardship. It comes from what some would call receiving. That term confuses me, so I’ll call it noticing — noticing breath, ease, comfort, accomplishment, a feeling of solidness your legs provide, a feeling of strength, a feeling of contribution, a feeling of connection, a feeling of competence, a feeling of possibility, and a feeling of power.

When you’re noticing those things, you are not noticing a feeling of tension, a feeling of heaviness, a feeling of pain, a feeling of sadness, a feeling of loss, a feeling of fatigue, a feeling of panic, a feeling of overwhelm, a feeling of anger, a feeling of powerlessness, a feeling of helplessness, a feeling of loneliness, a feeling of worthlessness, a feeling of doom, a feeling of bracing for the next shoe to drop, etc.

You are not wrong for feeling any of these things, but in an odd way, noticing the opposites will allow you to stop avoiding, fighting, numbing, or trying to move away from “negative” feelings (feelings are feelings and all are okay). All feelings can then move freely instead of remaining stuck in our physiology and psyche.

How all of this works is understudied, but we are learning that yoga practiced specifically to reconnect trauma patients with their bodies affects change in their brain scans. We are also learning that gut neurons communicate with the insula in the brain — the area believed to control compassion and empathy, perception, motor control, self-awareness, cognitive functioning, and interpersonal experience.

Body, brain, emotions, and perception share a complex relationship. We can’t necessarily think or talk our way through an emotional problem, set good boundaries, or move on from trauma without reconnecting with our bodies. When we reconnect, our gut flora may affect our perceptions.

The easiest path I know to feeling better is to start with basics – eat a variety of as fresh as possible food with minimal sweets, stay hydrated, sleep at least 8 hours per night, incorporate yoga for trauma and/or guided meditation into your exercise plan, and strengthen your boundaries.

Then…
Notice the feeling of being nourished by your food. Time your eating so that you never feel distressed by hunger.
Notice how you feel when you awake rested and how you feel the first moment you become tired. Do not push past your tired feeling. Take a nap or go to bed.
Choose yoga that emphasizes your control over the process, moves slowly, and has an instructor with a soothing manner and voice.
Practice giving yourself permission to prioritize yourself. Notice how that feels.
Use a physical boundary to help yourself visualize your limits. Verbalize your boundaries when needed.
Notice a feeling of ease each time you notice a feeling of tension.
Notice how you feel when you make a decision that’s unlike previous decisions in similar situations. If you feel peaceful, calm, relieved, energized, freer, happy, joyful, or even neutral

With these simple steps, you may be surprised how quickly you begin to automatically notice what feels good! That can have a very positive effect on the feeling in your gut!

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/

http://besselvanderkolk.net/the-body-keeps-the-score.html

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/yoga-perfect-home-workout/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/gratitude-is-my-best-defense/

June 9, 2015

Beer Goggles vs Fear Goggles

Beer goggles vs fear goggles – which are worse? Fear fascinates me. I see its effects in my choices. I feel it intensely at the most unexpected moments. I feel its power over my interactions with those who are afraid. I’ve seen fear prevent compassionate parenting, business success, relationship longevity, personal satisfaction, creative achievement, and informed healthcare choices, not to mention joy, peace, and happiness.

fear

Fear Goggles


I don’t think much about beer, but I have spent many an afternoon at happy hour trying to alleviate the deep feeling of restlessness I carried with me for the much of my life. My friends and I spent a lot of money on expensive wine. We formed bonds with our favorite bartenders. We talked too loud, cussed too much, and went home too late. A lot of it was fun and sometimes it momentarily colored how I saw things.
beer

Beer Goggles


So, which leaves you worse for the wear – beer or fear?
-Both can affect how you perceive the situation around you.
-Both can keep you from exercising good judgement.
-Both can hold you back at work.
-Both can create strife within your family.
-Both can cause you embarrassment.
-Both make some people aggressive and obnoxious.
-Both make some people withdrawn and sullen.
-Both can make you physically ill.
-Both can leave you feeling exhausted.
-Both can cause you to drive erratically.
-Both can wreak havoc on your finances.
-Both can result in ill-advised liaisons.
-Both can cause you to feel shame.
-Both can create a monster boss, husband, wife, or teen.
-Both can lead to a betrayal of trust.
-Both can cause you to neglect your responsibilities.
-Both can be toxic.
-Both come with interesting labels.
-A little of either can have a positive effect.
-Enough of either can paralyze you.
-Either can bring you to destroy your life.

The biggest difference I can see is that beer is an option and fear is unavoidable.

In fact, it is precisely this difference that makes it critical for us to be aware of, and have a strategy for handling, our fear. If we do not, it can easily spiral out of control or leave us feeling numb. Left unattended, fear can sap our strength, our power, our resolve, and our joy as fast as any addiction leading us to make unhealthy choices or preventing us from making healthy ones.

Embraced, fear offers us a mechanism for both protection and improvement. It signals to let us know where our boundaries are. We then have a choice to honor that boundary or risk changing it. Of course this happens very quickly and often at a subconscious level. Allowing ourselves to fully experience fear with the confidence that it will dissipate rather than overwhelm can turn our lives in a whole new direction.

If you have ever been forced to live with, or in, fear, please know that you deserve to feel safe, secure, loved, valued, important, and supported. You are not damaged beyond repair. You have simply suffered wounds that will take time and care to heal. You are worth the effort!

Here are some of my favorite resources to assist you along the way:

http://www.traumahealing.org/

http://rhondabritten.com/

http://www.havetherelationshipyouwant.com/confidence/

http://brenebrown.com/books/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”