In order for a theory or practice to work for me it has to combine mind, body, and spirit. What that means for me is scientific explanations of how the mind interacts with the body, how the body interacts with the mind, and how the spirit interacts and connects it all. I am a seeker. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am constantly seeking knowledge into the field of mind, body, and spirit and how that works in everyday life.
With this being my focus I am always looking for practical ways to integrate this into daily practice that can improve life. I recently have decided to spend an hour every night listening to experts in these subjects. These are neuroscientists and psychologists that discuss how stress affects the brain that will then impact the body. I have also listened to Buddhist practitioners who focus on mindfulness and how that will improve your life. The spirit components have included energy clearing, seeing the light and love in everyone, sound therapy with music that vibrates at certain frequencies to soothe the nervous system, and just being present and grateful in the moment. The underlying component in each of these teachings is simplicity. Getting into a quiet space and contemplating to be the best that you can be before you interact with another human being is step one. This enables all of us to be kinder people. Many of us don't have the time or inclination to spend years (it has been 20 years of studing herbs, spiritual practice and the science of it all at this point for me) studying these practices. With that thought in mind I wanted to try and break it down to easy-to-do practices to share with you.
Let’s begin with mindfulness. I have been listening to a series by Dr. Rick Hansen about his new book “Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence.” This book is grounded in neuroscience and helps you figure out scientific ways of being a happy human being. Here is a link to this book if you would like to learn more: http://www.rickhanson.net/books/hardwiring-happiness
Before the launch of this book he has interviewed other leaders in this field and combined them in a series that I have been listening to. Joseph Goldstein, founder of Insight Meditation Society: http://www.dharma.org/joseph-goldstein was one of the interviews. His topic was mindfulness. This was so simple yet so profound to me. I realized that on any given moment my mind was in a constant state of useless chatter! Running from one topic to another like a small child who has had way too much sugar! So what is someone like me to do? I have tried to “clear” my mind in the past but it doesn’t seem to work for me; his suggestion was just to be fully present in the moment. How does one do that?
Let’s begin by imagining you are someone who works on a computer all day. You could be fully mindful and aware of your fingers typing on the keys, of the words that you are typing. Just very physically and mentally focused on what it is you are doing right now. This can be very difficult because our minds will wander into thinking about what’s for lunch or dinner, what bills are due, where you may need to drive your children and so on. You can notice these thoughts but then return to focusing on here and now.
If your job is to interact with people then do that fully! Listen to them without thinking about what your reply may be. It is easier said than done but the effects can be huge on your interactions with others. Stress isn’t a physical thing (unless of course you are being chased, then yes, it is very physical) but normally stress is a perceived threat created in the mind. It is created by thinking about it over and over again. If you close off that chatter you close off the stress and calm not only your mind but also your bodys’reaction to stress. We are all aware of how stress can lead to disease so shutting it off is a worth while practice.
That brings us to the next step in the practice: Breathing. I’m sure you have all heard how breathing is a very large component of spiritual practices, but do you understand the science behind breath?
Dr. Stephen Porges was another one of the interviews on this series. He discussed the complex relationship in neuroscience and trauma via the polyvagal theory. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8RKC3Ga6shs&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D8RKC3Ga6shs
This theory specifies two functional branches of the vagal nerve system that invoke stress responses in mammals. This is a very complex theory but the short of it is this: the branches of the vagus nerve serve different evolutionary stress responses in mammals. The more primitive branch causes immobilization and the more evolved branch is linked to self soothing and social communication behaviors. Lots of science speak going on here but what this means is that stress can shut us down if we let it. How to avoid stress shutting us down,according to this doctor and his studies, are through breathing as it has a direct calming effect on the vagal nerve. He also suggests a quiet space, vocal sounds such as the way a mother speaks in a sort of sing song voice to her children, and facial expressions such as smiling also have an impact as they all signal the vagus.
To summarize: smile more often, be aware of tone and volume of voice when speaking to others, be aware of your environment and its effect on you. If your environment isn’t good, find quiet time and space for yourself every day. And last but not least BREATHE! This supports the para sympathetic nervous system that is the center of this vagal nerve. The long exhale breathe is the one that has been shown scientifically to have the most effect on this nerve. You gradually increase your exhalation until it is twice the length of the inhalation. Place one hand on your abdomen and take a few relaxed breathes. Feel your stomach expand on the inhalation and contract on the exhalation. Count the length of each inhalation and exhalation for several breathes. Get them to be equal in length. Once they are equal, focus on gradually increasing the exhalation by 1 to 2 seconds once every few breaths-do not strain in this- just get into a comfortable rhythm. Do this for at least 8 to 12 times then just go back to focusing on your natural breaths for 6 to 8 times. These practices help to calm the nervous system and eliminate those stress responses in the body and in the mind. Now let’s move on to the spirit.
I have been practicing Reiki for 11 years now. Reiki is a form of energy healing that has helped me to soothe my overactive nervous system. Before utilizing Reiki into my day to day life I had a problem even going to the grocery store. Social anxiety doesn’t even begin to describe my past issues. I’m not sure what was going on in my nervous system but for as long as I can remember I was anxious, nervous, and completely unable to be effective at social interaction. Reiki has helped me to calm that and enabled me to be more comfortable in my own skin. You can learn more about Reiki here: http://m.massageandskincaresolutions.com/Reiki-Therapy---Classes.html
In my Reiki practice I cleanse my chakras daily. What are chakras? Chakras are energy centers located in the midline of the body. This is a complex system but I will give you a simple explanation for now. There are 7 major chakras and each one corresponds to different organs,different emotions, and different aspects of your ability to interact with others and with life. You can find someone to help you clear these chakras, like myself. This can be done in a reiki session. You can also do a daily practice of clearing your own chakras. Jonathan Goldman M.A. does sound healing and harmonics. In this field there are certain frequencies that our body responds to that help us to clear our chakras. He has a link on his web site for a 7 minute chakra tuning using sound therapy http://www.healingsounds.com/7-minute-chakra-download-page
Some people may wonder if this is all in alignment with God. I would have to answer that with a resounding YES! I honestly ask myself in everything I do, Reiki included “What would God do?”. That may sound funny to some but that’s the truth of it. Would he try to be kind and gentle to himself and to others? Would he try to see the light and love in every human being? Would he want anyone to suffer from stress, worry,dis-ease? There is science in these practices and there is also love. Love only comes from one source. So YES this is all in alignment with God, source,creator whatever you wish to think of as your reason for being.
To sum up the practices that I have found helpful:
1) Clear your mind by being fully present in every moment.
2) Breathe, focusing on long exhalations, smile, and speak gently.
3) Clear your energy centers daily.
These simple things help to keep me in a state of equilibrium in a world that is constantly rushing around me. I hope any of this was helpful to you in your life. Please check back next week when I will go into a completely different topic- Gluten free and diary free treats for those of us that want the holiday goodies but also have allergies.