Learning to sit still. How meditation works.

 

Learning to sit still-how meditation works

If you think you can’t sit still for five minutes and have absolutely no time, you aren’t alone. You might think you can’t add another “to do “list to your day, as modern life is fast- paced and stressful enough already. Sometimes you’re just pissed. So many diversions, like Facebook, or shopping online, steal our precious time. But sitting still, in meditation, can have tremendous benefits for your health and happiness. Stress levels in the US are steadily rising, with over 53% burnout across industries, (even non-profits), now more than ever, according to a Regus Group study. Antidepressants use alone has increased by 400 per cent this last decade. Meditation was once thought of as an esoteric practice, but scientists are showing that it makes you smarter, less anxious, less depressed, and increases resilience and social connection. Better yet, there’s no right or wrong way to meditate. What’s important is the support and empowerment it gives to your day.

Relax a little more

In studies of happiness, says Emma Seppälä, Science Director at Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research, Americans are all about high intensity. Happiness is more of the “thrill’ and “excitement “ variety, with little value on calmness-that is, low-intensity positive emotions. For example, if you ask Americans to describe “happiness” they won’t say “inner peace”, says Seppälä.

When we’re stressed or angry, called unpleasant high-intensity negative emotions, we’re more likely to counter with even higher intensity doings-like running, to “ blow off some steam”. We’re more likely to turn to a myriad of distractions. Anything than sitting still. That’s where meditation comes in, as practicing sitting still helps you develop perspective and relax.

We need to take time for ourselves. We all want a purposeful, rich, and diverse world. When you take time for yourself, engage in a purposeful or idle pastime, you become more imaginative and grounded. Giving yourself space for quiet and stillness boosts happiness and encourages a healthy lifestyle. That stillness is why you need to meditate.

How to sit

There are so many ways to meditate, but one of the most profound yet simple ways is to sit tall. Sitting tall though, is really hard for most people. A bad back, inflexibility, or other physical barriers make sitting awfully uncomfortable. Aligning the spine straight and tall has an inherent subtle dynamic. Try these tips to work with posture limitations. Now you’re ready to slide into meditating:

1 .Use a pillow, or folded blankets under your sitting bones, to help tip your pelvis forward. If you don’t know what that feels like, it means your bum is a little higher than your pubis. You can also kneel with one or two yoga blocks underneath your rear, which can feel very comfortable. If you are sitting, your legs can be crossed, or more extended.

Shift your hips back a few times, to make sure you are grounded into the floor beneath you. Wiggle around a bit. Shifting or snuggling your hips back helps your spine be tall. If that isn’t comfortable, you can lean against a wall to support your back. Once you feel more grounded, feel yourself settle down. If you feel you need to just lie down to be comfortable, do it!

 

  1. Start to focus on your inhales and exhales. Let your breathing be soft and leisurely, not forced. Be leisurely about it, so you are not rushing.

Imagine your body feeling like Jell-O. When you tap Jell-O gently, it wobbles slightly, teaches yoga master Erich Schiffmann, author of Yoga-The Sprit and Practice of Moving into Stillness. That movement is your breath moving through you. Notice that you are starting to sit quietly, yet the body does have movement going on, and that movement is your breath rippling through you.

4. Stay as relaxed as you can be.

With a little time, patience, and practice, meditation gives back more than you thought possible.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Yoga Works – The Top Reasons to Try It

malasana

Yoga is good for the mind, body and soul.

Yoga might be the only time in your busy day that is truly yours; a time when all of your attention is directed to exactly what you are doing. Today over 15 million people in the US know the value of doing just that-relaxing with yoga. The yoga that we practice today rises out of an ancient meditation heritage dating back at least 4,000 years. Fast forward to today’s crazy hectic pace, especially with the approach of the holiday season, the benefits to your physical, mental and emotional health are top reasons why yoga still works.

1. Stress relief. Yoga reduces stress by encouraging relaxation and lowering the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Yoga teaches you how to breathe more fully by taking slower, deeper breaths. Known as  pranayama, breathing more fully helps improve lung function and trigger the body’s relaxation response. By changing our pattern of breathing, we can significantly affect our body’s experience and response to stress. Other benefits include reduced blood pressure, cholesterol and heart rate,  improved immune system as well as reduced anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia, and easier pregnancies.
2. Pain relief. Next time you have a headache, neck, back, or other chronic painful conditions, yoga can help. In the largest US study to date, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, yoga or stretching classes were linked to diminished symptoms from chronic low back pain, more so than a self-care book. Both the yoga and stretching class emphasized the torso and legs. Researchers found that the type of yoga, called viniyoga, which adapts and modifies poses for each student, along with breathing exercises, works because the stretching and strengthening of muscles benefit back function and symptoms. Many people with chronic pain shy away from yoga’s misleading reputation for requiring supple joints for fear of getting hurt. But the same goes for approaching any new activity with too much gusto, writes Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., in Yoga For Pain Relief . Instead of pushing yourself to your limit, think of staying in a 50-60% effort zone.

3. Better Posture & Better Bones. Yoga helps to maintain your muscularity and that helps with maintaining your posture. It also helps with stretching all the muscle groups that support better body alignment. For women, increasing research is showing that exercise is a means of preventing the risk of various cancers, particularly breast cancer. The reasons are twofold, in that both the physical effects and indirect effect of adding yoga as a form of exercise prevents weight gain.

4. Befriending Your Body. For anyone who feels ashamed or self-conscious about their body, yoga can help you become an alley with yourself instead of an adversary. Our obsession with thinness equates the physical practice as a good way to sweat/ get /thin/quick; all about the outer body. Yet yoga primarily evolved for a subtle and more powerful connection of the inner world: the mind, senses and emotions. Today 90% of all women and junior and senior high school girls, respectively, dislike their bodies and are on a diet. ( 15% of these girls are actually overweight.) It doesn’t help that classes might be packed with thin fit people. While yoga does teach you to use and discipline your body to be strong and flexible, the emphasis is on your body as a whole entity: living, changing, accepting and alive in the moment.

This article was originally published in the Idaho Mountain Express. November 16, 2012.

Connie Aronson is an American College of Sports Medicine Health & Fitness Specialist. Visit her at: www.conniearonson.com

Easing Pain with Yoga

Erich Schiffman Moving Into Stillness 2009

There are many reasons to practice yoga although it is essentially a practice intended to make us wiser, calmer, and better able to understand things. If you breathe, you can do yoga. If you are willing to pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, you can do yoga. And if you suffer from chronic pain, yoga can be a powerful compliment to physical therapy, medical treatment or surgery. The key to understanding chronic pain , pain lasting longer than 3 months, is exactly what modern science and yoga teaches: a mind-body connection that doesn’t differentiate physical pain, such as chronic neck pain, and emotional pain, such as depression. Practicing healing breathing and meditations, done anywhere, and at any time, can diminish this kind of suffering.

Calming the Nervous System
Our brain does a fine job of alerting us to incoming threat signals for our safety, but with chronic pain, the body and the nervous system becomes hyper alert, out of proportion with the actual physical pain. Stanford University professor  Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. ,in her book Yoga For Pain Relief, explains how you can thank our nervous system and its ability to learn in response to experience, called neuroplasticity,  for that. When you balance on one leg, she writes, the nervous system  becomes  more sensitive  to signs that you are in danger of falling. It also becomes more skilled at using that information to trigger a physical response to keep you in balance. The same holds true for pain, in that the nervous system “gets better” at being in pain, detecting threat and producing the protective pain response. It turns out this also leads to increased sensitivity in areas of the brain that detect any other kinds of conflict. Neuroplasticity can also be a solution, she writes. You have to teach your mind and body something new. The Yoga Sutra , the classic  text on yoga , describes  conflicts and false perceptions, such as” I am never going to get rid of this pain”, as Avidya. Avidya literally means “incorrect comprehension.”It clouds of perception of things.
3 Minute –Meditation

Teach yourself something new by redirecting your mind to your breath, the life force in all of us. Practice this simple meditation to reprogram the biology of any pain you have, and allow your body to heal and thrive. (Adapted from Emotional Freedom by Judith Oroloff M.D.)
•    Find a comfortable quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. Settle into a  relaxed position, or prop yourself  on your bed, with pillows supporting you, so you won’t fall asleep.
•    Focus on your breath to quiet your thoughts. Eyes closed, gently place your awareness on your breath. Be conscious of only breathing in and out. Notice your thoughts, but don’t attach any judgment to them. Just let them float away & gently return to focusing on your breath. Relax a little more.
•    Breathe in calm, breathe out stress. Let yourself feel the sensuality of inhaling as you first fill your chest and then fill the abdomen, and exhale as you release the abdomen and then finally empty the top of the lungs. This stretches your spine and straightens your back. With each slow, deep breath, feel yourself  inhaling calm, sweet as the summer jasmine, then exhale frustration. All negativity is released. Your body unwinds, lulling your biology. You’re cocooned by the safety of stillness. Keep refocusing on your breath and the calm. Only the calm.
There are many ways to describe the meaning of yoga beside the classic definition of one with the divine. No matter what name we use for the divine, anytime we feel in harmony with a higher power, that  too, is yoga. One of the most influential yoga teachers of our time, Sri T. Krishnamacharya,  spent  most of his life helping people with all sorts of illness. For one person, it might have been a more physical practice, for another, prayer and meditation might have been more appropriate. What ever you choose, practice it if only for a few minutes each day, as simple as breathing .

Connie Aronson is an ACSM Health & Fitness Specialist located at the  YMCA in Ketchum, Idaho. She is currently at her annual yoga retreat, with big Montana skies.

Willpower-know what you really want

Willpower is an instinct everyone has, yet it consists of much more than simply saying “I will’, or “I won’t”. As we move into the third week of the New Year, some of the lofty goals and self-control have vaporized. Don’t despair though;   self-control is only one part of willpower. The ability to remember what you REALLY want, (get out of debt, fit into your clothes, more sleep) is the ability to say “yes” to that particular goal. This is what Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., psychology  lecturer  at Stanford University, whose course, The Science of Willpower, teaches and  which her new book is based on. “To exert self-control, you need to find your motivation when it matters. This is the “I want” power, she writes.

Now Strategies

A student in Dr. McGonigal’s class, a producer, was an e-mail addict. Her behavior disrupted not only her work, but annoyed her boyfriend. The student described her email impulses almost as an itch-she just had to check her email. She was always tense. Her assignment was to catch herself before she reached for her phone. With time, she realized that her impulses had nothing to do with seeking information and was doing nothing to relieve her tension. As she began to notice how she gave in to her impulses, it gave her new control over her behavior. Catch yourself  falling  for your impulses earlier  in the process, and  notice which thoughts or situations might make it more likely that you will give in to your impulses, are strategies that McGonigal  teaches.

Stressed and Sleepless: The Enemies of Willpower

Willpower is essentially a mental muscle, but the body also needs to get onboard. The best intentions in the world can be sabotaged if you are sleep-depraved, stressed, sedentary, have a poor diet, or a host of other factors that sap your energy. Stress is the worst enemy of willpower, McGonigal writes. The  American Psychological Association shows  that 75% of Americans have high levels of stress and 76% of Americans want to improve the quality and quantity of the sleep they get. New evidence shows that poor sleep and stress contribute to poor self-control and focus. How can you harness positive willpower if you are exhausted? Inadequate sleep also contributes to weight gain, high blood pressure, depression, and lowered immunity. Globally, sleep deprivation affects the quality of life of 45% of the world’s population, according to the World Association of Sleep Medicine.

A Willpower Workout

( from The Willpower Instinct. How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of it -by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D.)

  • Strengthen “I won’t” Power; Commit to not swearing (or refraining from any habit of speech)
  • Strengthen ‘I will” Power: Commit to doing something everyday that you don’t already do just for the practice of building a habit and not making excuses. It could be meditating for five minutes, or finding one thing in your house that needs to be thrown out or recycled.
  • Strengthen Self-Monitoring: Formally keep track of something you don’t usually pay close   attention to. This could be your spending, what you eat, or how much time you spend online or watching TV. You don’t need fancy technology-just a pen and paper.

Above all, believe in yourself and keep your dreams alive in 2012!