mindbody medicine

The Challenge and Miracle of Self-Care

I don't know about your mind, but mine is super-busy and it is easy for me to get distracted – and this has only increased as I get older and as technology has become such a part of my daily life. You probably have heard the expression "monkey-mind", our thoughts constantly jumping from one thing to another.

In addition to my active thinking, I am often distracted by various body sensations – pain, fatigue, and more as the result of my stem cell transplant almost 15 years ago. And even without that, I remember when the recurring sore back or strep throat would occupy center stage in my attention.

I have had a daily yoga practice for decades – at this point the practice involves minimal moving and more breathing, chanting, gesture, and meditation. I am repeatedly surprised to see how hard it is for me to settle into my practice at the times I need it the most. I have a few tricks to help myself with this, but I know it is a common phenomenon. (Those tricks and the options besides yoga for a daily practice are for another time.)

But when I can connect my body and mind to my breath or sound, amazing things begin to happen. I will spare you the science of what occurs, but here are my direct experiences:

  • My body relaxes and tension begins to lessen or even disappear.
  • My relationship to my pain begins to change and and my anxiety or fear decreases.
  • My breath slows down.
  • My entire being feels like it is having a massage from the inside out.
  • My sense of my place in the universe comes into perspective and the size of my distractions seems to shrink.
  • My attitude towards myself and the world is reset so that I feel calm(er), kind(er), and more compassionate.

So even though my body and mind may resist getting to my yoga practice, I am always glad that I did. There is no single method or practice that is right for everyone, but yoga has definitely been right for me. I would love to hear what works for you.

 

 

 

Just one breath: Change your stress level and so much more.

I know from painful personal experience that I can be overwhelmed and frightened by the circumstances of my life.  It took the illness and death of my husband and my own brush with life-threatening illness for me to learn the most basic lesson of self-care:

If I control my breathing, I shift my emotions and the sensations in my body.

Science has shown over and over again that we quite literally change the autonomic nervous system when we relax with the change in our breathing.  What does that mean in real terms?

  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Decrease your heart rate
  • Improve your digestion
  • Improve the efficacy of your immune system
  • Decrease stress hormones

All this (and more) just by changing your breath?  Yes, this really works.  There are many ways to do this and each of us needs to discover a technique that works for us personally.

One simple breathing practice:

  • Bring your awareness to your breathing.
  • Notice the breath and how you experience it.  Do you feel the temperature at the openings of your nostrils, cool as you breathe in and warm as you breathe out?  What parts of your body are moving?  Does your abdomen expand on inhale and relax on exhale?  Are your ribs perhaps moving out as you breathe in and letting go as you breathe out?  Are you breathing through your nose, your mouth, or some combination of the two?
  • Intentionally slow down your breath, exerting as little effort as possible.
  • Take 5 slow and easy breaths.

When you have completed 5 breaths, allow your breathing to return to normal and notice how