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Is Loneliness Bad for your Health?

Studies show that loneliness can lead to survival reactions such as feeling we need to fight to save ourselves or need to flee from danger, often called fight/flight stress reactivity. Emotional pain triggers the same response in our brain as does physical pain. Having a major accident that results in broken bones can register as just as traumatic to the brain as a broken heart. Evolutionarily speaking, humans need other humans to be safe. The tribe kept an eye out for predators and worked together to get food and shelter. It turns out that our bodies’ chemistry changes when we experience loneliness, leading to increased stress hormones connected to anxiety, insomnia, and reduced immune system functioning. These hormonal changes can also decrease our motivation and our desire to engage with others. Whether you’re an introvert and get fueled up from a quiet conversation over tea, or an extrovert who thrives in crowded rooms, your health depends on you making contact, or getting ‘out there’ from time to time.

What can help your health today? Make a date with someone you enjoy or carve out meaningful time with your family. It never hurts to strike up a conversation with a kind stranger at the coffee shop; positive social engagement with relative strangers still has a positive effect on feelings of connection and well-being.

What if your work schedule is too full or home demands are too great? What if you don’t have friends close by? Call a good friend, the phone works for connection too, even a quick text can help our biochemistry shift toward ease. Also, studies from the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley show that online classes and sessions can boost happiness and be part of one’s social support system. Consider joining an online class with me this spring, or begin individual sessions.

Classes begin online April 21st,  in Berkeley April 1st, and Mill Valley April 19th. I’d be glad to be part of your wellness support network. In addition to the social support, the mindfulness skills you’ll develop through our time together will also boost your happiness and well-being.

Serotonin (the well-being brain chemical)

Do you or someone you know struggle with anxiety or depression?

If your brain is low on Serotonin (the well-being brain chemical), depression and anxiety can easily take hold of you.

Are there any alternatives or aids to medications? Can you enhance your bodies ability to create serotonin while on medication, or live happily without medication? Yes!

These three easy additions to your self-care can greatly increase your happiness.
1. Social support (hang out with a friend this week)
2. Moderate exercise (not too intense, or it lowers serotonin)
3. Eat ‘kosher’ style sometimes (separate meat and dairy into separate meals, and eat some whole grain and vegetable meals without any animal protein in them) **this helps your body metabolize the available serotonin

Read more to understand why:

Increase Serotonin Without Pharmaceuticals

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Find Your Sweet Spot

How we respond to life’s stress is a huge indicator of our happiness. Notice the indicator is not, having no stress, but how you deal with the stress you have (and the future stress you will have, because that’s how life goes).

Stress Ball

Some of us tend to be over responders, we can rev our internal engines too high. We might tend toward reactivity, moving to attack or defend in the face of small and large stressors alike. Sometimes, something as small as a typo in an email we just sent can set off a fairly large stress reaction. Other times, running a little late to drop off the kids, or meet a friend, can trigger a reactive chain of mental and physical events that leads to ongoing stress. Sometimes stress reactions can pile up and, as the saying goes, there might be a straw or two that breaks the camel’s back.

Others of us might tend to be under responders, we can rev our internal engines too low. We might tend toward non-responsiveness, or not really noticing much of what is going on inside of us and around us. We can loose details and find ourselves in the same jam over and over without understanding what is contributing to it. Perhaps we don’t register the stream of comments from our supervisor, and feel blind sided when we are given a critical review. Or perhaps we just feel out of it, or isolated, or checked out. This can also lead to stress, a kind of stress that is lurking below the surface and might unexpectedly explode when it is least expected (or wanted).

Mindfulness helps us find our sweet spot, our center, or balance point between over responding and under responding. In our sweet spot, we handle the stress rather than moving into combat (over responding) or collapse (under responding). Mindfulness not only helps us navigate toward our sweet spot but it also helps us understand more about our current set point. Maybe you already know where you are on the continuum of responding and could use a little help getting closer to center, or maybe you need to start with the question, “How do I respond to stress? Do I tend toward over or under responding?”

Mindfulness support helps with just these questions and challenges. Let’s get started right away, your health is worth it. In our phone or Skype sessions you’ll be able to determine your current set point and develop a plan […]

Bridge from inner landscape to outer landscape – video link

 

 

Self Care – Start Today

When thinking about self care commitments, what leads you to the well-being you are hoping for?

Before one takes up a practice of self support or self healing it is essential to investigate if we are engaging in self care with a “little s, self” or “big S, Self.”  In care that is a “big S, Self” there is an ego drive motivating the task, and a goal that leads to some kind of achievement or attainment.  In my view this only furthers the imbalance and stress.  The intention to govern the body, as a possession of “me or mine” leads to greater disconnection and is not a strong place for true healing to occur.  In the “little s” approach, one acknowledges the mysteries of the body, mind and nature as a process that is unfolding rather than a place to arrive at.  This process is then lived into as a unique dance between the elements of self-will and self-surrender.  From this “little s, self” we come to know that how we engage in self care is every bit as important at what kind of self care we are engaging in.

From a perspective of how I intend to take care of myself I see my need for the following:

  1. To value my being as much as much as my doing.  In service of this, to “allow” more time for meandering walks, sitting on the grass, going slowly.
  2. To take in what is here more often than seeing what is missing. In service of this, to appreciate the simple moments of self care that are available no matter how full the day: a deep breath before driving to work in the morning, pausing to feel a hello hug when greeting family and friends, tasting water as I quench my thirst.
  3. To allow my mind to clear as a gift to myself rather than a goal to achieve.  I do not believe in a definition of meditation that speaks of “emptying” the mind.  However, I can relish the moments when the mind empties itself, for a fleeting second, and enjoy the momentary setting aside of the effort to think.

What are you needing?  What self care practices do you desire from your “little s, self”?

Good thoughts to you!
Rebekkah

Mindfulness Plain and Simple

Driving WomanI left the big city about 20 years past and the smaller city nearly 6 years ago. Now I live in a sleepy town that affords me many luxuries, one of which is not having to lock my car. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t; I always return to it undisturbed. This was not the case in my 20’s when I repeatedly returned to my car with the car stereo gone, wires dangling where it had been only moments before, my glove box obviously riffled through and maybe my parking meter change missing. So being no stranger to car break ins, on a recent trip to a big city, I was aware of the need to be sure to lock up. My husband, knowing my current habits, even called out a reminder as I walked out the front door.

Once I found myself on the exciting and seemingly exotic streets of my urban destination I was captivated by the many sights, sounds and certainly also the who, what, when and where of my business there. The first time I got out of the car, it was only after I walked the 1/2 block to the building I was intending to visit, and into the front door of said building that realize I wasn’t sure I had locked my car. “Did I lock my car?”, I said to myself unintentionally loudly and hoped no one heard my crazy self talk utterances. I had no recollection of locking it, no memory of the comforting “beep beep” the car makes when I secure the alarm, didn’t know if I saw the little buttons sink into their holes safe and snug till my return; essentially I had no idea if my car was locked or not. Remembering my own urging and that of my husbands, to be sure of this one detail on my Big Trip, I walked back out the front door, down the 1/2 block and back to my car, which was locked. Now repeat this same scenario with only slight variances three, yes three more times at each subsequent location I visited that day. Ug, sigh, you might think this is a sign of early senility or some side effect of peri-menopause (a catch all diagnosis that some of my friends and I have been using lately), but alas it is not as glamorous as that (if you call peri-menopause glamorous). It’s just simple distraction, wandering mind, thinking of what I […]

Video Blog – Mindfulness Tools for Today

Mindfulness practice can invite us to allow our experience to be as it is, opening to, accepting it.
Mindfulness can also help us to take wise action, and to incline the mind away from unhelpful thoughts.
Find out more about these practices with this pithy teaching.

(8:21)

Home for the Holidays

 

One of my mindfulness teachers James Baraz sometimes says, “You think you’re making progress in your mindfulness practice until you go home.”  Ahhh, the blessings of family and the years of history we have with them, and the years of memory aka, neural habits, that get ignited when we are with them again.

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We all have neural habits and they are helpful in many cases.  We use them to remember how to brush our teeth, find our car keys, not to mention speak and read.  And we also have neural habits that are not so helpful like feeling as though we are again ten years old and everyone in the family is ____ (fill in your own memory).

So how can mindfulness help?  First, we have to notice that we are skating headlong down a snowy mountain into an unhelpful neural pathway or mental habit.  Then we meet it with kindness.  Getting angry at our mental habits just adds another problem to deal with.  Stay kind and light – everyone has mental habits – it’s part of being alive.  A kind approach is like making sure your hat and gloves are securely on while you’re catapulting into said habit – at least you can keep warm as you go.  When you have some sense of mental composure, or the clarity that you are no longer ten and your parents can no longer put you on restriction, (or whatever your memory was leading to), you can begin to see that the memory you are currently reliving is just that, a memory.  You do not have to “buy it.”  Or as I like to say, don’t believe everything you think.  You can watch these thoughts about your history pop up and you can remind yourself, I don’t have to believe this just because my mind thought it.  While you remind yourself that you are thinking, and that you do not have to “buy” the memory as being true now, you are changing the neural pathway.  Back on the mountain you just grabbed onto a nearby tree branch and have slowed your decent into an uncomfortable and no longer accurate version of yourself.  Now you have a way to stabilize yourself and some more say in where you go from here.  Do you keep plummeting to the ten year old you or can you redirect yourself to the now and remember you are 25, 45, 65… years old?

Mindfulness says you […]

Trying SO hard… to relax

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Years ago while preparing for a retreat I was to teach, I noticed that as I was thinking over the topics and themes for the retreat I kept gripping.  As mindfulness invites us to do, I checked into myself to see what the tension was.  I became aware that I was thinking “I have to work hard on this retreat and use all my effort to prepare.”  With a closer look I laughed at what I was saying, “I need to work really hard to plan something deeply relaxing.” It is laughable that I thought this, yet I did. Over the years I’ve guided many mindfulness students through their own relationship to effort, trying hard, etc.  The idea many of us act from is that we have to “work hard to find ease”. The underlying message is that we need to try really hard to be mindful and present, or that we need to “plug away at peace.”

Plugging away at peace is the opposite of what we need to do. It is the process of relaxing into ourselves rather then trying to force presence and peace that is actually the task (or non-task) at hand. Learning to let go of our habit of effort, force and pushing is, in my experience, much more difficult then the true destination of “being.”  Being is easy, learning how to stop trying so hard, to “be” is the difficult part.  I think in order to try less and “be” more we can all use these words from the wisdom teachers as a guide, I heard them from Lama Surya Das many years ago and they were as soothing to me then as they are today, “Trust yourself.  Let go.  You are already here right where you need to be.”

I’d love to support you in this process of relaxing into yourself. Join me for my upcoming Whidbey Island Retreat Oct 11 -13 2013 or one of my upcoming classes, more information at thismindfullife.info
New classes and offerings posted regularly-

Play it Again Sam

Remember vinyl records? The way the turn table revolves?  The sound of the needle as you place it down on the record?

Picture yourself setting the needle in the first groove, it needle winds itself along the well-worn track, singing the whole song from start to finish. It’s all so familiar; same notes, same words, same familiar beat.

This is what happens in the mind when we fall into “prerecorded” mind
states. As our mind runs through the familiar song, we fall easily into the well-worn grooves of our thought patterns, our assumptions about the situation, and our projections about what is happening. When, or if, we return to mindfulness we realize we’ve spent another hour or another day listening to our “top 10 tunes.”

We can wish that we could lift up the needle and pick another song, or better yet, take the record off. If only….  Insisting that our mind stop singing its hits, if this works at all, results in a kind of mindfulness bypass.   This denial of what is in the mind delays the healing process that needs to occur in order for the thought pattern to exit the juke box of our consciousness and truly dissolve.

The offer that mindfulness does make, is to have the opportunity to see what is also
happening.  Instead of only noticing the prerecorded mind state and getting lost in its captivating rhythms, we can learn to be aware of the song as part of the present moment.  We begin to also notice the larger landscape and our awareness can move to what we hear, what we sense in our body, and what we see. This brings us into the moment, the here and now.  Our awareness now includes the truth of our inner landscape as well as our outer landscape.  In this internal honesty we can be with the whole experience with compassion. And this begins the journey of truly healing the place in the heart where the song comes from.

If you want to learn more about how to practice mindfulness in this way and you want support in practicing it, join me this fall on Whidbey Island in gorgeous Washington State.  The retreat will nourish your mind, body and heart!
Click here to find out more: http://www.thismindfullife.info/whidbeyretreat2013/

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