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Consciousness Archives - Page 3 of 4 - Lifestyle Integrity

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20

Dec

Treat Depression Without Drugs

mirror_smile

I was depressed for many years. Life felt hollow. I often had the sense that nothing I could do today could possibly matter anyway. The one therapist I saw recommended after a series of visits that I take anti-depressants. I refused. I know that medication may help some people, but I was absolutely certain that I did not want to take a drug to feel normal. Intuitively I knew that there were more sustainable options. Even though there were years where I thought at least once daily about suicide I decided to keep my mental health in my own hands. I tried a lot of things. Perhaps you’ve heard of the studies saying that smiling in the mirror is more effective than Prozac? It feels ridiculous. Then it works. Today I love my life. I got here through a wealth of techniques, some detailed below, all of which are now a part of my approach to coaching others through shifting their consciousness.

Almost as uplifting as mirrored smiles is to see the tides in popular medicine turn away from over prescribing and towards exploring options with no negative side effects. An article recently published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience by its editor in chief takes a look at a number of recent studies and summarizes what we are now learning about how to treat depression without drugs.

This article looks primarily at studies focusing on the neurotransmitter serotonin, but mentions dopamine and tryptophan as well. All three of these are known to have correlation with mood, specifically with depression. Serotonin in particular is often the target of pharmacologic approaches to treating depression.

The author, Simon N Young, put alternate treatments into 4 categories:

1. Cultivate Positive Thoughts

The current medical paradigm focuses on the fact that increasing serotonin seems to lead to a sense of well-being and more positive thinking. Only recently have we had the technology to look at the impact of actively choosing to think positive thoughts. Low and behold it works! The psychological term for this method is “positive mood induction”. The techniques used in studies I have seen range from looking at cartoons to joy based writing exercises to cultivating positive thoughts, much like a mantra or incantation. However it is accomplished, it is becoming clear that when we choose to think positively our brain chemistry changes. As Young points out, “This raises the possibility that the interaction between serotonin synthesis and mood may be 2-way, with serotonin influencing mood and mood influencing serotonin.” Not the least bit shocking to me, but scientists don’t rely on intuition, they require data. Finally, we have some data. The opposite of this is also being proven scientifically in other studies. Hostility can kill you. There are even strong correlations with hostility and coronary heart disease.

I often times have clients work with a mantra or incantation to train their mind to work in the way they choose. It is amazing just how plastic our patterns are. When you wake up every day and repeat a phrase or body movement it does not take long for the body/mind to begin expecting this. Pretty soon you wake up and the same thoughts and energy that you were forcefully cultivating are now happening on their own. What we often fail to recognize is that the thoughts in our head were not created by our genetics. They came from our environment. When we are mature we can choose to take an active role in thought creation rather than just receive what our situation offers.

2. Get More Sunlight

I am a HUGE believer in this one as well. We did not evolve indoors basking in the glow of a computer monitor. Perhaps one day computer monitors will emit something closer to sunlight, for now our best bet is to get outdoors more or buy therapeutic lighting. From the author, “Relatively few generations ago, most of the world population was involved in agriculture and was outdoors for much of the day.” The information age has many benefits, but it may not be so great for our happiness. Sunlight stimulates serotonin. In studies “there was also a positive correlation between serotonin synthesis and the hours of sunlight on the day the measurements were made, independent of season.”

So far two treatments for depression, both free, both without side effects (don’t tan until you burn people).

3. Exercise

Again, the blindingly obvious bell may be going off in some of your heads. Still, I wonder how many psychiatrists insist on prescribing exercise to increase serotonin before they will consider pharmacologic options. The fact that scientific data is now being gathered to measure the effects that exercise has on serotonin levels is hopeful. This information is getting to the people who make decisions. “In the United Kingdom the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence…recommends treating mild clinical depression with various strategies, including exercise rather than antidepressants, because the risk–benefit ratio is poor for antidepressant use in patients with mild depression.” Young also points out that “as with exposure to bright light, there has been a large change in the level of vigorous physical exercise experienced since humans were hunter-gatherers or engaged primarily in agriculture.” Maybe there is something to this treadmill desk trend.

4. Diet

“The fourth factor,” that Young says could “play a role in raising brain serotonin is diet.” This one is also huge. If you want to look again at the ways that our lifestyles have changed in the past few hundred years go no further than the local supermarket. Almost everything other than the outer, fresh food aisles, are a relatively new invention. Some of this our bodies know what to do with. Much of it, in my experience, is depressing. Since I started out as a Holistic Health Counselor I always work with my clients on their dietary choices. This is primary. I’ve said it a thousand times before and I will repeat it here: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. It’s worth pointing out that this quote is from Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician generally regarded as the father of modern Western medicine.

When I battled depression and now when I work with clients I take an even more integral approach. I look at how the four things above interact with an individuals relationships, work, spirituality, sense of purpose and numerous other areas of their life. It is time we as a culture get over looking for the single cause for anything. Life is too rich to be pigeonholed. It is great to see science waking up to the power of holistic approaches to health and well-being. I chose to call my business Lifestyle Integrity because I believe that nothing other than a truly integrated approach can create sustainable change.

 

 

16

Dec

Anger is Love


I used to be sooooo angry. I was angry at the state of the world. I was angry at you. I was angry at myself.

Now anger arises so rarely I miss it. And when it comes I cherish it as a gift. What changed? I went deeper into the anger and felt its roots.

Where does your anger come from? Do you embrace it? How do you act when this emotion arises? Do you become aware of anger early enough to choose clarity over rage? Can you smile while you are angry?

Anger comes from love. You can not get angry unless you care about something. It is impossible to feel anger without love. Understanding this on a deep level and developing the ability to witness this within yourself will change your relationship to anger completely. Your anger is there to serve you. It is there to serve others. It exists because you care.

Embracing anger is healthier than suppressing it. We have all heard the suggestion to breath 10 times when you get angry, to pause and let it pass. Perhaps you have been advised to close your eyes, to meditate, to visualize, to exercise, to do anything to minimize or work past the feeling of anger. I say that if you have a problem with anger it is not because you indulge it. The problem is that you do not feel it deeply enough to understand its roots. Anger is dangerous unless you feel it deeply. Truly bringing your awareness to your anger changes everything. Feeling anger deeply brings you to love.

How we act when anger arises is determined by the degree of awareness we have of our internal landscape. The less aware we are of how anger arises the later in its gestation we feel it. When we witness anger at its roots it feels like love. When we catch it early it does not feel overwhelming and we therefore have a choice in how it is expressed in our actions.  When we choose to honor anger as a manifestation of love it can be channeled into a creative, even nurturing act. When a loved one is threatened anger compels us to protect them. This we know. But do you recognize that you are often protecting yourself when you get angry? Can you connect with the feeling of vulnerability that precedes the anger? Trace the anger and you will find yourself feeling threatened. Beneath that you will find what you love. Before all else you love yourself.

The later we become aware the more anger controls us and the more likely we are to act destructively when we get angry. Anger offers clarity, but first you must circulate the energy from your body to your mind. If you go into a blind rage when anger arises it is because you have not learned to connect your awareness with your body. Awareness is a skill that develops with use. In life threatening situations fight or flight responses serves to protect us. These adrenaline fueled reactions are rarely appropriate in the modern world. As you get more in touch with your anger you can choose to engage these impulses or not. In nonphysical confrontations, in conversation, in argument, the more evolved response is to quiet the body and engage higher cognition. You must circulate the immense energy that anger offers to your higher mind. Only then should you choose to bring that energy back into your body to act with purpose.

Embracing your anger allows you to honor it. Anger does serve a purpose. Anger is how we connect with that which we love and keep it safe. Yes, you feel anger if someone attacks you or your loved ones. You likely also feel anger when someone threatens your authority or expertise. Can you admit to yourself that you feel vulnerable whenever you are angry? Can you recognize this in others when they get angry with you? When someone is angry at you it is directly linked to their sense that something they love feels threatened. Can you honor the love in them or do you feel the need to strike back with aggression?

Anger is a tremendously powerful force. Anger connects you with your power. Emotions themselves are not necessarily good or bad. Power can be used to help or to hurt. It is rarely helpful to judge yourself for your emotions. Destructive actions triggered directly by emotions are what we must control. What happens if you simply feel your emotions deeply; including anger? Many fear that anger will lead them to do something terrible, to hurt someone, to lash out, to make a mistake. But what happens if you connect with the love that is behind the anger? How does this effect the tone of the experience? How does it effect the actions the emotions inspire? Might it allow you to wield this power differently?

Try smiling when you feel anger. Smile, breathe deep and exhale with ease. Your eyes must smile as well. This is not a maniacal grin. This is an easy smile. You should feel it in your heart. You must keep breathing. Holding your breath traps energy. Breathing deeply circulates energy. Smiling will interrupt a pattern of rage, a pattern of holding anger below your neck. Smiling can be a key, a Trim Tab to transforming anger into clarity and compassion.

Anger brings clarity by bringing us completely into focus in the moment. Many are drawn to anger because of the sense of power and clarity, righteousness and control that it brings to a situation. What happens if you choose not to shut the anger off, not to deny or suppress it as many would suggest, but to truly honor this anger? Breathe deep of the feeling and feel the energy coursing through your body. Let that energy move up into your mind. Let anger develop into clarity. Understand why you are upset. Connect with the vulnerability in you and others and honor the love that is at the root of this feeling. Use the clarity and energy that anger offers to take care of yourself and others. Let anger become a catalyst for creativity.

The tattoo on my arm is a reminder. Aggressive patterns run up and down my arm. In the center there is a dove. When I see anger in others it helps remind me that love lies beneath all things, even violence.

This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose then I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.

13

Dec

Your Heart May Know the Future

In 2004 a team of scientists led by Rollin McCraty and funded by the HeartMath Institute set out to explore the role that the heart plays in intuition. Although few media channels covered the findings of the study (which was published in The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine), the results were simply shocking.

McCraty et al define intuition as “a process by which information normally outside the range of conscious awareness is perceived by the psychophysiological systems.” Sounds complicated, but we’ve all had intuitive hunches. It is a sense of what is to come that does not seem to be based any information in our awareness. Based on previous studies they thought that perhaps our body knows things before our mind does. To be blunt, your heart appears to know the future.

From the authors, “Most people at some time have experienced “intuitive” perceptions about distant objects or future events that later turned out to be correct. In many cases, these perceptions are really cognitive inferences, extrapolations based on forgotten memories of prior experience that seep into consciousness. However, there are instances when so-called “gut feelings” or “intuitive insights” are found to be valid and related to circumstances so unique that these intuitions do not seem explicable on the basis of prior experience. It is postulated that such intuitive perception involves connection to a field of information beyond normal conscious awareness.” In other words, sometimes we think we know the future when we are really just processing our memories. But there appear to be times that we are able to tap into information that is beyond our 5 senses. Can a rigorous scientific study be used to prove this?

Here’s how the experiment went down. Participants were isolated in a sound proof room. They were put in a chair with a computer monitor in front of them and a mouse at their fingertips. They were also hooked up to an array of sensors that measured skin conductance level (SCL), the brains electrical activity (EEG) and the hearts electrical activity (ECG). The intention was to see which parts of the body reacted to stimulus and when. The stimulus was images on the computer screen. The participant clicked a mouse and 6 seconds later a randomly selected image would appear on the screen. The images were of two types, calm and emotional. The calm photos were of landscapes, seascapes, fruit, trees, animals and common household objects. The emotional pictures portrayed a range of erotic, violent and otherwise emotionally stimulating subjects. Then the screen went blank for 10 seconds and the sequence was repeated.

Looking at the data showed the expected fluctuations in the skin, brain and heart to the emotional images. In previous similar studies both the skin and the brain react to stimulus. There is one exception. In studies done by Dean Radin on experienced meditators their skin conductance response is drastically reduced or non-existant. Trained meditators were used in this study as well. Clearly meditation is powerful in helping one to maintain a degree of stasis in charged situations, but that is not what is amazing about the results of this study. The amazing part is what they saw in the heartbeat data.

The heart responded to the emotional stimulus “starting around 4.5 seconds prior to the stimulus.” ¥es, the heart consistently knew that an emotional image was going to be shown 4.5 seconds before it came onto the screen. You would have to read to the study to understand the thoroughness of the controls in place, but it is quite clear that no one and no thing had information about what image the random number generator would produce before it came on the screen. Yet somehow the heart knew.

Participants were meditators and they were trained in the HeartRate coherence techniques developed by the HeartMath Institute. I own and have worked with this equipment. It is a bio-feedback system to train anyone to control the consistency of your heart rate. In most people the pauses in between heart beats are sporadic. In heightened and FLOW states they become consistent. The implications for everything from immune support to mood to now intuition are profound. This does not mean that the results of this study will only be seen in those trained in these states. Trained participants were chosen based on previous studies which showed that the results are more pronounced than in those untrained.

In closing, the authors added, “although our finding that the heart is involved in intuitive perception may be surprising from one perspective, it is worth noting that in virtually all human cultures, ancient and modern, the heart has long been regarded as a conduit to a source of information and wisdom beyond normal awareness. Thus, our data may be seen as providing scientific evidence for an intuitive capacity that humankind has known and used for many millennia. “

(This post is one in a series on the interface of Science and Consciousness that informs the work I do with my clients.)

Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.

09

Dec

Breathing Exercises

(This post inspired by the Art of Living)

Meditation is the deepest pool of water. It goes on beyond ideas. To overstate its reach would be hard. But simple breathing exercises have had a bigger effect on my life thus far. While meditations dive into an infinite abyss in ever subtler and less physical ways, that first dip of my head under water that I felt by doing breathing exercises was a profoundly simple awakening to the control that I can choose to have over the experience I have of my body, my emotions and the thoughts in my mind.

Much of what happens in our bodies we are either unaware of or feel as if we are powerless to control. We each have an autonomic nervous system. This is the term we use to describe the control system for our bodies functions that generally happen beneath or outside of our conscious awareness and control. Heart rate, digestion, perspiration, salivation, arousal, our immune system and our breathing are controlled by processes that we are normally not aware of. By knowingly taking over a task that is normally controlled without our awareness such as breathing we are able to exert conscious control over physiological functions that often times seem to be controlling us. Because of the way that all of the body’s functions are intertwined, by changing just our breathing we are able to have an effect on everything from our heart rate to our happiness.

Anyone who has ever felt anxious, angry, excited or sad should be familiar with a number of things that are happening in their body while feeling these emotions. One of these is the depth and rate of our breathing. For a simple example look at your breathing while you are calm. It will be deep, filling up much of your lungs and possibly causing your chest, stomach and or shoulders to expand. This breath will be slow as well as deep, potentially lasting more than a few seconds. What you are likely not directly aware of is the way that all of the bodies other autonomic functions are working in concert. When we are resting and stress free this is a synchronization that happens in the body that keeps us healthy, happy and alert.

The opposite is true when we worry or get nervous, angry or over excited. Then our breathing tends to become shallow and quick as our heart rate goes up and certain muscles in our body constrict. At these times our resources are diverted away from our digestive as well as immune systems and into our muscles in the early stages of a fight or flight adrenal response to stress. Even our higher reasoning in the foremost part our brain seems to lose resources. Studies show that students taking tests perform at a much lower level than would be expected if they experience nervousness or stress for exactly this reason. While the most evolved parts of our brain are correlated with performing the most complex reasoning tasks we are capable of, this ability to meta-analyze complex concepts from afar is understandably a far slower process than the rapid instinctive reactions that potentially dangerous situations require. Fight or flight reactions shut down complex reasoning and amplify our tendency to be reactive. When we see a rapidly approaching lion we don’t stop and ponder the existential implications of life and death, we run. Fear facilitates the functioning of large muscle groups at the expense of the bodies other systems. This is great for physically threatening situations, not so great for the simple stresses of day to day life. Put another way, when we are anxious or nervous we are prone to getting sick, having digestive issues, muscle soreness and often make mistakes on things that we should have been thinking through more thoroughly.

When introduced to formal breathing techniques I began learning how to take control of my breathing in a measured and rhythmic way. While sitting in a calm, restful state I studied the symbiotic relationship between my thoughts, my mood, the activity and sensations in my body and the length and depth of my breathing. By controlling my breath I began to see quick and meaningful changes in both my physiology and the tone and volume of my conscious inner monologue. It became clear in a very short time just how many of the formerly automatic responses that my body would have to a given situation I could actually choose to control with purpose and direction. When we take the reins of our bodies functions by controlling breathing we get a chance to guide so many of the other processes that seem to be happening beyond our control. Most of this happens without any effort or awareness other than breath control. The associations built by slowing and deepening breath while in a resting state carry forward so that in stressful situations all one must do is change the rate and depth of breathing and within seconds a calm, resting state can be accessed based primarily on the way that our body associates states with breathing, but strengthened by the associations we build between feeling calm and breathing slowly each time that we practice this.

On a more subtle level, when I began working with my breathing I also began to have a deepening trust in the intuitive understandings that so often hang out a couple of notches on the volume knob below conscious chatter. In the process of learning to have more poise and be less reactive in everyday situations I found myself having a deepening trust in my own judgment and ability to act quickly in any situation without feeling the need to stop and ponder. With increased breathing exercises my everyday sense of readiness inches ever closer to what many refer to as a ‘flow’ state. This is the state of being that artists and athletes describe where it is almost as if times slows and the most appropriate actions are automatically taken without any conscious effort or hesitation. The calm that I am describing here should not be mistaken for detachment or lethargy. It is an incredibly alert and active stance that is simply free from worry, distraction and unhelpful mental chatter.

I don’t mean to say that I quiet my mind. Many talk about meditation, used here to mean simply focused attention, as stopping the mind from thinking. As I have written before, this is not exactly how I experience it. My mind goes quiet no more than hands go numb, ears fall deaf, or my tongue fails to taste when I stop focusing on it. It has helped me to think of the brain as a sensory organ that picks up on thought. You are not your brain. You are the one who is aware of it. In a moment of slowness between breathes I have the experience of turning my attention to my right ear and hearing the room. My eyes are closed, if I ask myself what I see I will look and realize that I see only black. If I then change my attention to my mind I become attuned to the many thoughts that churn through my waking head. But to rest in between….this is where the wise man prays.

What we learn is that from this resting place of experienced stillness comes the quickest, most precise and in tune movements we can make; but also the most relaxed and effortless. And in the waiting there is no wondering or stress. This is not a place of denial of the outside world. There is a finely tuned listening, an awareness of the environment, that only such centeredness can allow. When the normal tendency to fixate upon and amplify one specific sense, including that of thought, is relaxed we are free to witness the present moment with much greater clarity and joy. The actions that we take from this expanded place of consciousness include all of the functions of our previous awareness, but add an element of choice and a sense of empowerment that is otherwise so often missing.

And all from breathing exercises he says?

I do.

The line between focusing on breathing and deep meditation is a thin one. Many meditative traditions begin with purposeful breathing as a means to learn focus and control. This skill is then utilized for prayer, koan practice, mantra, chanting, or to focus on ‘nothing’. From breathing a practice can continue for a lifetime. But I would posit that this is daunting and largely unnecessary for the lay person. What I hope all children will be taught and I offer all adults should seek is to learn to take control of their breathing. The benefits are immense, the effort minimal and really, you are doing it already, so why not do it well?

 

This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose than I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.

06

Dec

Can’t Sleep? Meditation Can Help with Sleep Problems

Anyone who has ever had trouble getting enough sleep knows just how much exhaustion effects every aspect of your life. Being under slept has been linked to problems with everything from our immune system to learning. But did you know that meditation can help to transform your sleep?

I love science, but it rarely impacts me more than my own direct experience. 12 years ago, long before reading any of this, I started meditating for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes at nights. What happened? I started sleeping for an hour less every night. I would wake up energized after 7 hours of sleep instead of exhausted after 8. I assumed that the time spent meditating was so restful that I just needed less sleep. This is surely part of the truth. What the science below shows is that I am also likely getting a much higher quality of sleep when meditate regularly.

You probably know that sleep happens in stages. Generally we talk about 4 stages. In stage 1 you are between sleep and wakefulness and it is very easy to wake you up. In stage 2 you are falling deeper to sleep and it becomes harder to wake you. In stage 3 you experience what is called Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) or Deep Sleep. Most of us can not remember this stage, it is one of emptiness or darkness. Stage 4 is Rapid Eye Movement (REM). This is when we dream.

The majority of the night is spent in SWS and REM. These are believed to be the times when the body and mind rest, regenerate, assimilate the days events and prepare for the coming day. Science aside, we all know what it feels like to wake up well rested and, perhaps more often, to wake up feeling tired. The length of time spent asleep matters, but I for one notice that some nights I get 8 hours that felt restless and wake up feeling exhausted. Other times I get 8 hours that feel like I dropped into an abyss and I wake up feeling amazing. Clearly sleep is not just about quantity, but quality as well.

An April 2012 paper published in the journal Frontiers in Neurology takes a look at a wealth of studies that have been done in the past 55 years.

This paper reports that meditators (both TM and Vipassana) experience “enhanced states of SWS and REM sleep compared to that of non-meditating control group.” We know that the act of meditating itself is restful. I have reported that it can lower stress at work and that the reductions in depression, anxiety and stress last long beyond the actual meditations, but now we are seeing that it can also make sleep more restful.

It is widely accepted that sleep changes with age. The amount of time that we spend in SWS decreases over the years. But this can be counteracted with meditation! The authors note a study suggesting that “older meditators could retain the sleep pattern of younger non-meditating controls.” Again, meditators appear to get more out of the same amount of sleep.

The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) controls bodily functions that are usually beneath our conscious awareness. I wrote recently about how you can use breathing exercises to help regulate and control things such as heart rate, digestion and arousal while awake (to be posted 12/9). This paper includes evidence that meditation can have helpful, rest promoting effects on the ANS while we are asleep.

When you are in a “fight or flight” state your sympathetic nervous system is active. The opposite state is often called “rest and digest”. This is regulated by the parasympathetic nervous system. It is now believed that restorative sleep can be characterized by “autonomic flexibility.” In order to get the most restful sleep possible we want to have some sympathetic activity during REM sleep that is then balanced with high parasympathetic activity during deep sleep (SWS). This balance is a sign of “autonomic flexibility”. The authors point out that in non-meditators “aging alters autonomic flexibility leading to an overall increase in sympathetic activity along with reduced parasympathetic activity, thereby bringing about autonomic arousal and decrease in sleep quality.” But, “Vipassana meditation practices help to retain the flexibility of autonomic activity during different stages of sleep.”

Perhaps you have heard of people taking Melatonin to aid in sleep? Well, “Meditation practices are reported to enhance the melatonin levels” as well. The benefits of meditation on sleep reported in this paper go on to include effects on blood flow to various regions of the brain, metabolic function regulation and even stress reduction. As I said at the start, understanding the science is great, but what I really recommend is that you try this out for yourself and see what happens for you. Drop me a note. I’d love to hear about your experiences.

 

If the thought of shifting your life seems both exciting and daunting, I would love to support you on your unique transformative path. Contact me to find out how my work as an Integral Life Coach Integral Life Coach can kickstart your journey.

 

02

Dec

How to Focus

Do you know how to focus? Be honest. Concentration is a skill most of us are never taught. My ability to focus on one thing has improved drastically in the past year. Allow me to explain.

The average adult can focus on an object in an unbroken fashion for far less than one minute. Some estimates put the average time at more like 8 seconds. That’s when we’re trying. 8 seconds of laser like focus and then we seek distraction; a new webpage, a different thought, shifting in our seat, looking out the window. Distractions are endless. But what does it feel like to stay focused?

Have you ever been in the ‘flow‘ or the ‘zone’? Have you ever lost yourself in sex? Sports? Reading? Work? These flow states are the product of extreme focus for an extended period of time. Take a look at a great athlete, scientist, artist, inventor or entrepreneur and you are likely to see extended periods of deep, unbroken concentration coupled with fearless action. We wield great power when we can focus. A wealth of research is starting to point to the idea that your ability to focus single pointedly on a task directly correlates with the ability to achieve one’s goals. (I’ll be writing more on this in coming weeks)

We are all familiar with the increasing number of diagnoses of Attention Deficit Disorder in the United States. There are a lot of uncertainties about the reasons for this. Some cite genetics, others the way schools are set up for a particular learning style or parenting, technology, the pharmaceutical industry, media, sedentary lifestyles, chemical imbalances, diet. The list goes on. Clearly all of these factors and many more play a role. When I talk with clients about “lifestyle integrity” we work with all of them.

What does not receive enough voice is that concentration is a skill. You can learn how to focus. Like any skill, concentration increases with practice. Yes, some seem to have an innate proclivity for extended concentration while others seem to struggle with single pointed attention. The same could be said for shooting free throws. Some people take to basketball instantly. Others are a bit clumsy. Certainly not everyone can play in the NBA. But ask any coach and I am sure they will say that everyone who puts in the work can improve from their baseline by a great deal. Practice is the key. Lucky for us, there are practice techniques that have been honed through thousands of years of testing for developing concentration. This is one of the reasons many business leaders will report having a regular meditation practice.

Spiritual practice is about a lot more than simply concentration, but there are few formal paths that do not develop this skill early on. Concentration is the foundation of prayer, mantra, koan, chanting, ecstatic dance, breathing exercises and a wide range of more subtle meditative exercises. Christianity asks us to pray with absolute focus and intention. Zen Buddhism will have you focus on a koan or ‘nothing’ at all to realize enlightenment, but first you will spend a great deal of time doing little more than counting your breath; 1-10 and repeat. When I first started attempting 1 minute of perfect focus was difficult and frustrating. Now I will do this for up to an hour at a time and enjoy it immensely. This practice is fruitful through years of effort.

Transcendental Meditation (TM) works with a mantra. A mantra, in this instance, is a sound or phrase that is repeated silently in the mind. In TM one brings awareness to the mantra and then lets the mantra go. Emptiness or transcendence is cultivated. When the mind wanders to anything at all it is brought back to the mantra with complete focus and then relaxed once again. While not as aggressive as a fixed focus, TM also cultivates an awareness of where one’s attention is as well as the ability to choose where it will rest. An increase in one’s ability to concentrate is often reported. Well over 300 articles in peer-reviewed journals cite a range of benefits in the lives of those who practice TM.

Knowing your purpose and finding your vocation will help you to be successful simply because it is easier to focus on that which you feel aligned with. None the less, enthusiasm waxes and wanes for all tasks. When we develop the skill of concentration we increase our likelihood of being productive and successful in every tasks we choose. What have you done to learn how to focus?

This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose than I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.

29

Nov

Worksite stress reduction through a Transcendental Meditation Program

If you read this blog than you likely know that the scientifically proven benefits of meditation are many. I wrote recently about a study showing how just 8 weeks of training can effect a lasting reduction in stress and anxiety. Studies that look at the impact on individuals in a testing environment are becoming increasingly common. Less common are attempts to look at how meditation effects people inside a work environment. Can meditation really help us at work?

The authors of a March, 2005 study published in the Journal of Social Behavior & Personality were looking to see if meditation could have an impact on occupational stress. Numerous studies have determined that when workers are experiencing stress there is a significant and measurable cost added to doing business. A highly stressed employee might be pictured as a car driving with its breaks on, stress being the breaks. As the authors of this study note, “when researchers look at compensation claims, reduced productivity and increased absenteeism, added health insurance costs, and direct medical expenses for related diseases such as ulcers, high blood pressure and heart attacks…The costs of stress are variously estimated at hundreds of billions of dollars annually, or 12% of U.S. GNP”. Clearly any business looking to reduce costs should be interested in inexpensive means of reducing occupational stress.

Practicing meditation is free, but can it be show to reduce job site stress? The authors of this paper note that it has previously been shown in studies that Transcendental Meditation (TM) produces a “unique state of restful alertness that is not achieved during ordinary eyes-closed rest.” TM has also been shown to improve cognitive performance and increase self confidence in clinical settings. These studies certainly imply that stress would be reduced in a testing environment, but what about in an office?

Researchers went to a South African marketing research consultancy firm of 80 people. They measured stress levels in employee using both psychological symptoms such as employees self-reported incidence of nervousness, irritability and headaches as well as objective measures such as blood pressure and heart rate. In addition to the impact on individuals the study aimed to investigate the consequences of individuals stress levels on the business as a whole by analyzing metrics such as staff turnover rates, perceptions of company climate and some measures of company wide productivity. Researchers described the atmosphere at this firm as being one of “frenetic activity attendant on frequent deadlines and the need to coordinate hundreds of part time field workers.” Sound familiar?

Employees were told that their superiors wished to evaluate to two potential approaches to stress reduction, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, and TM. Participation was voluntary and about 85% of employees opted to take part. 61% of these (49 people) eventually learned TM. They received 1.5-2 hours of instruction on 4 consecutive days with follow-up at 2 and 6 weeks and 3 and 5 months for a total of 16 hours of training. The results?

Employees trained in Transcendental Meditation techniques did show a significant measured decrease in occupational stress symptoms. The major reduction started about 2 weeks after beginning training. Participants also showed a significant decrease in blood pressure (BP). A few participants who were in the hypertensive BP range at the start were later measured to be in the normotensive range, a significant health improvement. The authors reported that, “The blood pressure findings of this study are consistent with blood pressure findings previously reported in well-controlled randomized clinical trials.” What is perhaps more hopeful is the fact that there was also a measurable reduction in the stress levels of those who did not receive training in either technique. This supports the hypothesis that having trained meditators in a work environment can have a positive impact on the stress levels of all employees. Calm people may soothe an environment much the way that a hysterical person can disrupt it.

Looking at company wide financial figures there was a net gain of 9.2% while “sales growth rate doubled from 6% before the intervention to 12% after.” With adjustments for inflation this amounted to “double the average real growth rate for the seven years prior to the
intervention (6.3%).”

A common question is whether meditation is any more useful than simply resting. As these authors report, “a meta-analysis of 32 studies has found that the physiological effects of the TM technique are significantly greater than ordinary eyes-closed resting for the same period of time.” In other words, there is more happening in meditation than simple rest. While putting aside time to be still is profound in and of itself, the techniques do appear to offer other benefits above and beyond what the untrained person will likely access without training. Looking at my experience, and those of my clients, I would say that this difference that meditation can make is profound.

 

If the thought of shifting your life seems both exciting and daunting, I would love to support you on your unique transformative path. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching program can kickstart your journey.

 

25

Nov

Daily Practice

Have you ever had a daily practice? I consider a morning practice to be the ultimate Trim Tab. If you are looking to drastically shift your life towards purpose and fulfillment then it is worth developing a daily practice. I suggest a bare minimum of starting your day with 20 minutes of purposeful daily practice. Consider including the following:

Dream Journaling – I have always had a very hard time remembering my dreams. The exception to this is when I place a pen and paper next to my bed at night with the intention of writing down anything I can remember from my dreams first thing upon waking. Within a few days I get fragments, then scenes and then entire stories down on paper. A few times I have become lucid while dreaming. We spend a third of our life asleep. Remembering your dreams is the first step towards deeply rewarding practices such as lucid dreaming, dream yoga and dream analysis.

Meditation – Learning to meditate will change your life. Techniques and approaches to meditation are numerous, but the benefits that meditation can provide are even greater. Whether you begin to realize enlightenment, reduce stress, lower blood pressure, increase concentration, reduce tension or understand the nature of reality, meditation will offer you as much in return as you can invest. I could not possibly say enough about it here.

Exercise – Most of us live abnormally sedentary lives. We did not evolve sitting in office chairs using our brains far more than our bodies. Bringing all of our energy into our minds at the expense of our bodies leads to everything from hypertension to obesity to depression and erectile dysfunction. If I had to pick the two most transformational practices they would be strength training and meditation. Combined their benefits multiply.

Prayer/Incantations – There is immense power in our minds. Our lives are shaped by the thoughts that we embody. When was the last time you attempted to reprogram your thinking? Have you ever attempted to consciously choose your beliefs? Do you think it is possible to choose the mood that you wake up in? Studies show that smiling in a mirror can be as effective as prozac to cure depression. Combine those smiles with words that feel sacred, uplifting or even a bit silly and your mood will shift even more. To combat depression I started waking up every morning, forcing myself to smile and say one or two sentences about each day being better than the last and growing wiser and happier each day. At first I felt ridiculous. Before long both the smiles and the positive thoughts started happening on their own. Our thoughts are programmed by every bit of information we ingest, why not be one of the authors of your thoughts?

Breathing Exercises – I might actually recommend these over meditation. I have written about breathing exercises before. If meditation seems daunting, consider learning some simple breathing exercises. Along with all of the other benefits they also end up being a stealth concentration practice. More on this in my next Insight.

Journaling – At times I like to journal at night, almost last thing, before I go to sleep. I find that even something as brief as 5-10 minutes of putting the days thoughts and events down on paper can have an incredibly positive effect on both my sleep and the mood that I wake up in. It is far too easy to lay down and close my eyes still wrapped up in the days events not even realizing that I am still ruminating over events that ended hours ago. Journaling allows me to honor what has happened, process my feelings about it and then let go and drift off peacefully to sleep.

Sacred Reading – Whether you choose ancient texts or more modern books on faith and spirituality setting aside time daily to immerse yourself in others wisdom is an uplifting and expansive practice.

Yoga – David Deida once described yoga as ‘moving just beyond your range of comfort so that in the future you will have a greater range of comfort.’ (paraphrase). Most Americans are familiar with the physical positions or asanas that yoga includes. While this but scratches the surface of a true yoga practice, if you dedicate yourself to something as simple as 5 sun salutations daily I am certain your days will be different. Creating space in your body creates space in your mind. Yoga is designed to facilitate this process.

Singing/Chanting – More primal than talking, there is a reason that most religions include some form of singing or chanting. Whether you sing folk songs or repeat a sacred phrase the simple act of using your voice with focus and purpose can be a deeply transformative practice. This was both one of the hardest and most rewarding practices for me during my year on the mountain.

Whatever you choose, the simple act of committing to putting aside time every day to focus on taking care of yourself, being present in the moment, and connecting deeply with an experience will reward you in ways you can’t know without having a daily practice.

This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose than I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.

15

Nov

Study Shows Meditation Can Reduce Stress, Anxiety and Depression in just 8 weeks?


Once again, scientists are showing that meditation is great for you. This time we get to see how even a short, 8 week course, can have a lasting impact on how people are effected by emotionally challenging stimulus.

study recently published in the neuroscience journal Frontiers finds that participating in an 8-week meditation course can have lasting effects on the brain. This is not the first study to use neuroimaging to measure changes in the brains of meditators, but it is unique. Many studies have tracked changes in the brain during meditation. Being in a meditative state has been shown to have measurable correlations with an increased ability to focus, reduced anxiety, relief from depression, stress and a general decrease in emotional triggering to external stimulus. There have also been documented increased immune responses measured during meditation. What makes this study unique is that the scientists attempted to look not for changes during meditation, but for lasting changes that continue after meditation has ceased. This study was designed to explore “the possibility that meditation training leads to enduring changes in brain function, even outside meditation sessions.”

The scientists involved asked if “meditation training may induce learning that is not stimulus- or task-specific, but process-specific, and thereby may result in enduring changes in mental function.” Researchers looked at fMRI data before and after the 8 week meditation course to see what lasting changes even this brief training may offer.

All participants were new to meditation. “Healthy adults with no prior meditation experience took part in 8 weeks of either Mindful Attention Training (MAT), Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT; a program based on Tibetan Buddhist compassion meditation practices), or an active control intervention.” The control group participated in an 8 week health education course without any meditative training. (Frontiers)

This study looked specifically at a part of the brain called the amygdala, “which has been shown in research to perform a primary role in the processing of memory and emotional reactions.” (wikipedia)

3 weeks prior to the training and 3 weeks after the training all participants were shown a series of images intended to elicit a positive, negative or neutral emotional response. This is a widely used technique in many areas of consciousness research that allows the researchers to monitor the brains activity in a variety of situations using brain imaging techniques such as fMRI. What these researches found is that those who took part in the 8-week meditation programs showed significant changes in how their brains reacted to emotionally charged imagery that subjects in the 8-week health education course did not show.

The participants in the mindfulness group showed a decrease in right amygdala response to all three types of images. This supports the hypothesis that mindfulness meditation can  improve emotional stability and response to stress. Essentially, meditation appears to help one to cultivate emotional resilience.

The participants in the compassion meditation group also showed a decrease in right amygdala response to positive and neutral images but not to negatively emotional images. The participants who reported engaging compassion practices the most in their own time outside the class showed an increase in response to negative images. These are images depicting human suffering. Participants trained in compassion resonated more with others suffering. This is perhaps no surprise. The curious thing is that the ability to resonate with others suffering actually correlates with a decrease in our own suffering. Anyone who has volunteered their time to help those in need is likely familiar with this phenomenon. Resonating with those in need feels good. Empathy is a rewarding experience. Apparently meditating on compassion increases this capacity with some degree of permanence.

Perhaps this is why serious meditators can seem so blissed out. It may also help to explain why over a decade of meditation has led me to become a life coach. I truly do love being of service.

 

If the thought of shifting your life seems both exciting and daunting, I would love to support you on your unique transformative path. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching program can kickstart your journey.

 

04

Nov

Coming Down the Mountain

I quit my career to do what? My usual response has been ‘meditate in a log cabin on top of a mountain’. The truth is a bit more interesting than that.

Let me start with where I was 14 months prior. In August of 2011 I was working full time as a security consultant and part time as a Life Coach and Holistic Health Counselor. I had been in the security industry for 13 years; ever since I dropped out of college. I started out crawling under houses running cable and ended up consulting for clients such as The Federal Reserve Bank and Fortune 100 companies. I made great money and had an immense amount of freedom. I had a large corner office across from the Empire State Building but chose to work from home in my underwear 9 days out of 10. My boss was 900 miles away. The company I worked for went to great lengths to keep me engaged moving me from Operations to Sales to Consulting. None the less, I remained bored and a bit restless. I knew that life was meant to be lived with a deep sense of purpose and that work was at the heart of this. I was living out of integrity.

Damn near everyone I knew was a bit envious of my work arrangement and yet I wanted out. In the evenings, when I wasn’t playing music, I would work coaching clients. I would meet with people in person or on the phone to help them change their lives. People came to me wanting more energy, wanting to find love, lose weight, get over an eating disorder, find their calling at work, engage a spiritual practice….all people seeking growth and transformation. To be with them through these changes put me in awe. To be able to hand someone a few of the tools I had discovered over the past decade and then hold a space for them to transform their beliefs and actions provided the most inspiring moments of my life.

Before I dropped out of college I had been sliding into a suicidal depression for years. Leaving school was symbolic of owning the path I would take in life. I decided to self educate, to take control of the information that enters my awareness and the values that I assign to it. I spent the next 14 years studying growth and transformation using my own life as a laboratory. I started out very slowly with philosophy and breathing exercises. This past year was in many ways the culmination, the most extreme form of my experimentations in personal transformation.

In August of 2011 I knew I had to shift my entire life but wasn’t sure how to do it. I quit my security job, sent a man I hadn’t met a check for a years rent on a cabin I had never seen in person, shaved my head into a mohawk, cut the sleeves off some of my ‘corporate shirts’ and went to Burning Man for the first time ever. When I returned I said goodbye to NYC and moved to my cabin in nowhere North Carolina.

You have likely heard the quote attributed to Einstein:

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

All I knew was that something had to change. I had no idea where my year would lead, but I did have a well refined system of consciousness shifting that I wanted to engage full time. I needed to shift my consciousness and then decide. I took a leap.

I decided to break all of my patterns, no phone, no internet, no TV, no work. For the better part of the next year I lived in relative isolation on my mountain. My days were structured. I had a spreadsheet of over 30 activities that I tracked ranging from meditation to breathing exercises, yoga, strength training, spiritual study, journaling, dream yoga, chanting, running, time outdoors and monitoring my food intake and spending. I wrote hand written letters for the first time in a very long time. I woke with the sun. I spent hours a day in deep meditation. I had bears in my yard. I hung out naked on the front porch often. My backyard was a mountain top bald with 360° views of the surrounding Appalachian mountains.

I will dig into the details of my days at a later date, but the simple fact is that our consciousness shifts when we ask it to. What I did was extreme and is not what I would advise most to do. In 2005 I did a similar experiment while working 40-50 hours a week. Every other year has been drastically less extreme. What is important is that we learn to follow the still small voice inside our heart that is calling us to live a life of passion and purpose. What I have amassed is a wealth of techniques big and small to help remove the layers of noise that mask this voice.

And now I find myself back in New York. I have found love (UPDATE: we are married and now have 2 sons! UPDATE #2: SHE is now my partner in this business :). I know what my work in this world is meant to be. My spiritual life is rich. My health is better than ever. I feel full, overflowing, yet hungry with a desire to help others engage their lives in ever deepening ways. This can start as simply as eating a better breakfast or getting enough sleep every night. I will tell you a bit about how we all have Trim Tabs in my next post. Trim Tabs can be thought of as the small, easily shifted elements that can cause a ripple effect in our lives. My work now is about helping others find these lifestyle changes that will help to fill their life with more integrity, more excitement, more joy and an ever deepening sense of their own intuition.

 

If the thought of shifting your life seems both exciting and daunting, I would love to support you on your unique transformative path. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching program can kickstart your journey.