Train Your Brain to Create Peace and Stillness

by Lynn Wonders on May 17, 2017

berber-monkeys-2272539_1280Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. We are wired to feel fear as human beings.

Many people are plagued by anxiety to the point it interferes with daily functioning, robbing us from an ability to savor life.

Most understand intellectually that we need to find a way to quiet our busy minds.

Yet, I find that the majority of people lack the practical steps to make this a reality. You are not alone. There is help to be had and here I want to provide you some actionable steps you can take.

After 20+ years of helping clients and students through debilitating anxiety difficulty focusing and over 20 years of practicing and teaching others the art of meditation and mindfulness, I have honed a method I now bring to others in my classes and private sessions.

Thoughts jump in and around like monkeys. The busy mind is often referred to in meditation courses as “the monkey mind” for this reason. We CAN train the mind so that the jumping monkeys don’t hook us into their bounding play.

Most of the thoughts in your mind are not even based in truth and reality.

Using our thinking minds is necessary for our functioning in society. Most thoughts you have, however, popping in and floating around in your head are actually NOT TRUE and therefore should not be followed.

Unfortunately, you have a series of thoughts in your mind that are repeating and repeating and repeating, creating a lot of anxiety, worry and distraction from what really matters in your life.

Anxiety is a result of thoughts that are either focused on past events or events yet to come in the future. When we are fully in PRESENT time and space (unless we are presently being chased by a rapid dog or an ax murderer) we are safe. The PRESENT moment is where we can experience calm and emotional safety.

In the practice of mindfulness and meditation, we consciously focus on the natural flow of breath. When we do this we are returning to PRESENT MOMENT and we are also creating a space for stillness in the mind.

In this space for stillness to occur, we provide the mind a much-needed break from the onslaught of false and anxiety-provoking thoughts that take up so much space in our heads.

When we spend most of our time projecting into the future or ruminating about the past, we are missing out on LIFE in this present time and space.

If these thoughts were just a song playing on our Ipod, you would be able to press the pause or stop key. The mind is not that easily controlled. It’s very difficult to just stop our thoughts.

Mindfulness is a PRACTICE that grows a new muscle. Mindfulness is a PRACTICE that creates a new experience.

Mindfulness is new and different way of engaging with life.

It is a PRACTICE that requires skill to corral the mind’s course of focus so thoughts that jump from here to there are brought into line by strengthening a new way of being, seeing, hearing, feeling.

Here are some keys to this practice:

  • Open and expand your window of awareness. Begin noticing your thoughts as if watching through a window.
  • Be present with the thoughts as if watching monkeys playing in a field but don’t go out and play with them.
  • Realize and remember you are here now, on this side of the window and not out in that field by focusing your present-mind on the natural flow of your breath while you observe the monkeys playing out there.

Seated meditation is the most efficient and effective way to cultivate the practice and experience of mindfulness. I teach all of my clients how to observe a regular and simple seated meditation practice because I believe it is key to transforming your experience of anxiety to an experience of peace.

Aside from seated meditation there are lots of great times to practice mindfulness. Here are some ideas for you:

  • In the shower:The average person takes a 5-10 minute daily shower What a wonderful time to practice! Notice the sensation of the water on your body, the sound of the water, the scent of the soap.
  • Before and after bed: Right before you get out of bed, set your feet on the floor and take a few minutes to feel the floor under your bare feet. Feel the bed under your seat. Feel your breath as it flows in and out of your lungs. At night, just before you lie down do the same. Close your eyes to amplify your other senses. See if you can feel a palpable sense of gratitude.
  • When you are driving: Keep your eyes open for this one for safety! As you are driving stay very present with where you are. Do you know how often our minds drift away when driving and we just operate on auto-pilot? Stay keenly aware of sights, sounds, smells and sensations as you are driving.

How badly do you want relief from anxiety? How much do you want to feel peace in your mind and body? You absolutely can have this but you must commit to daily and regular practice.

Make the commitment to yourself, your life and you will find it easier and easier to experience more joy and less worry.

 

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Feelings Need To Be Felt

by Lynn Wonders on April 1, 2017

cryingIf I had a dollar for every time a client has apologized for crying during their first visit to my office I would be a very wealthy woman. I find myself telling all of my clients at some point that crying is not only allowed, but encouraged.

It is all too common that people in this society view crying and expression of emotions as something bad, wrong or weak. And it’s not only men who have a hard time expressing emotions. I see women and children holding back.

In the field of psychology there is a lot of common talk about “emotion regulation.” For the rare individuals who are truly overwhelmed by emotion so extremely and ongoing that their functioning is impaired, learning to “regulate” emotions through specific skills training is tremendously valuable.

But for the rest of us, we could stand for a little less “regulation” and a lot more allowing for feelings to flow.

Feelings need to be felt. Stuffing and suppressing emotions is a real problem for many of my clients. I find myself most often teaching people how to allow themselves to be friends with their feelings and how to allow the feelings to be felt and expressed.

I’m not suggesting that emotions should be allowed to take over our interactions with self and others. On the contrary, when we allow ourselves to feel honestly and express openly we actually can take greater responsibility for our actions and our choices.

The magical gift of tears

Intense circumstances can trigger intense hormonal responses in the body often called “stress.”  Particular hormones such as cortisol are released as the body’s way of going into protection mode. But when we experience high levels of these stress hormones without proper outlet or release, our health is endangered over time.

Tears are a mechanism through which the brain and body can RELEASE excess stress hormones.

YES. When you allow yourself to cry,  you are RELEASING STRESS.

And you NEED to release stress. Your brain and body need the equilibrium that can occur after a good cry.

Other benefits to feeling our feelings

When we allow ourselves to feel and express our RAW emotions for others to witness, social research suggests that feelings of sympathy, empathy and connectedness to others most often follows. When you allow yourself to show your true feelings, allow yourself to cry,  you are demonstrating to others you are real, you are human and you are willing to be a bit vulnerable.

Deal with your discomfort and stop apologizing for your feelings.

Whether you are the one emoting or you’re in the presence of someone else experiencing a wave of feelings, it’s important to not allow discomfort to dictate. Remember, feeling and expressing feelings is healthy.

If you feel a wave of emotion come over you, stop apologizing. You didn’t choose to feel what you are feeling. Acknowledge and allow the emotions you are having to move through you. It’s healthy. It’s human and it’s important for your growth and healing.

And when you are with someone else who is having a wave of emotions, it’s important not to shut them down.

Tips on how to respond when someone else is crying and expressing emotion

  1. Keep in mind if someone is crying, they are releasing stress and that’s a healthy thing.
  2. Notice any discomfort you may feel and take a breath. And another breath. Just be and breathe for now.
  3. Do NOT shove tissues in their face at the first sight of tears! We may mean well but when you push a box of tissues in front of someone when they begin crying it can be interpreted to mean they need to dry their tears and stop crying. See #1 and #2. After they’ve been crying and seem to need a tissue you can gently ask, “Would you like me to get a tissue for you?” or just have a box nearby.

Check in with your feelings regularly.

Consider it like a devotional time for your emotions. Dedicate time each day – maybe throughout the day – to check in. Ask yourself internally, “How am I feeling? What emotions are hanging around inside of me?”

Do a body scan. Often emotions are trapped in tight muscles or achey joints. Breathe into he physical sensations and see if you can connect the sensation with a particular feeling or memory.

Keep a journal

The tried and true old advice is still good advice. It can be very helpful to write about your experiences, your feelings, your fears, your visions, your dreams. It will help you to stay in touch with your feelings.

Start a conversation

Don’t be afraid to talk with someone about what you’re feeling. It can be helpful to process and work through what is happening for you on an emotional level whether with a counselor, coach, friend or trusted family member.

 

 

 

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