Week 36/Mindful Media Consumption: Tools to Hone Our Inner Wisdom

Melting Arctic ice, hurricanes, bailouts, unemployment, presidential elections, inflation, deflation, recession, depression! We are surrounded by an endless stream of anxiety inducing information – through TV, the Internet, newspapers, radio, and conversation. It is important to be aware and informed citizens, but what is “news” really, and when does another story become something other than news? We turn to various sources for insight to help us deal with uncertainty, and to calm our fears, but rather than clarifying or keeping us well informed, is this media information instead cultivating fear and anxiety? Is our habitual looking or reading simply making us more anxious rather than keeping us informed or educated?

As yoga practitioners and citizens of our society, what can we do about fears that arise in our lives and how can we use the many ideas and tools of yoga to help us cope in these stressful times? Below are some suggestions, both through action and with thought. Choose one or two to begin, but eventually you might find them all slowly working their way into your life. If you benefit, we ALL benefit.

  • Be clear about why you are listening to/reading the news. What are you trying to gain from it? What is your intention and are you achieving this intention? The yogis say that what you put in your field of awareness is food for the senses.
  • Consider limiting your access to the deluge of information. Perhaps even consider taking a “fast” from the news. This will give your nervous system time to settle down.
  • If your life has been affected by difficulty, try to use it, as much as possible, for positive growth and as an opportunity for change.
  • To transform your fear, be present with your feelings, shine the light of awareness on them and have self-compassion for your challenging feelings. Know you are experiencing fear, but you are not your fear.
  • Be mindful of your choices of actions and thoughts, and how each choice affects your state of mind.
  • What nourishes you? Do more of it.
  • Restore yourself through rest or relaxation.
  • Think thoughts and do actions that help you feel connectedness, both inside and outside yourself.
  • Meditate and/or breathe every day. Allow this to be a time to simultaneously connect and to let go.
  • Volunteer your time to those who have less – called Seva (a form of karma yoga, self-less service).
  • How much is enough? Perhaps you really have everything you need?
  • Every day, list three things for which you a grateful.

Yours, in service,

K.O.

Kathy Ornish, c-IAYT

Kathy Ornish is a practicing and certified yoga therapist (c-IAYT) and a certified yoga teacher (E-RYT-500). She serves as Senior Faculty at Gary Kraftsow’s American Viniyoga Institute where she is Faculty Specialist in the Viniyoga Foundations Program for Teaching and Yoga Therapy. Kathy’s yoga therapy practice involves addressing individual’s structural, physiological, and emotional conditions. Her primary emphasis in all her teaching is the breadth of the yoga tradition using the appropriate application of the many tools of yoga in hopes that she can help people realize their highest potential.  For more information, please visit her website at www.goodspaceyoga.com

Week 35/Hurricane Edition: Calm in the Storm

Dorothy Hunt’s quote brings me great solace and comfort as I sit down to prepare this week’s mindfulness post, which will reach many readers that are busy preparing for Hurricane Dorian. The ability to receive warnings and track major storms brings both the ability to prepare in advance, as well as many days of potential angst and panic. It is in times like this that I draw upon mindfulness practices to help me weather the internal storm brewing in both my mind and body, as worry thoughts of the potential storm impact start creeping in. The most effective tools for me all start with AWARENESS of my thoughts, followed by a willingness to accept the thought as just a thought, and then a great big deep breath, followed by a slow steady exhale.

The pre-storm hysteria can bring out the worst in people. We see a lot of irritability and anxious energy released through the fight response and this is often projected onto those in close proximity, like our loved ones. The anxiety brought on by a storm warming or any other warning functions as an adaptive mechanism in humans to energize and activate us for preparation (the flight response). In these moments, it is important to recognize the common humanity of people your encounter – rushing through stores, getting gas, and trying to secure their homes. At times the intensity of the anxiety in an individual is excessive (because of multiple stressors and/ or a preexisting anxiety disorder) and may lead to immobilization, best known as the freeze response. The fight, flight, freeze responses are all responses to signals of danger and it is helpful to recognize the presence of these states.  If you are anything like me you may find yourself moving through all of these states over the next week. Ideally, with the use of tools we are able to move through them and restore some equanimity.

The fight/flight responses both respond to similar tools; they are both responses to the activation of the sympathetic nervous system that releases adrenaline and noradrenaline, preparing the body for action. The amount of these neurochemicals are in excess of what is needed and can fuel some serious aggressive behaviors, such as road rage or vulnerability of losing your temper. If you feel yourself loosing control, try out the DBT skills that follow.  And don’t forget to bring awareness to your actions and BREATHE.

STOP Skills

Stop, literally stop what you are doing or saying (if driving slow down)

Take a deep breath, inhaling slowly through the nose, hold 1-2 seconds, release slowly through the mouth…repeat several times.

Observe what you ae sensing in the body (heart racing, tension, stomach churning, etc), observe your thoughts and look for all or nothing, catastrophic, or overgeneralization in your thinking. Catch the exaggeration and name it without judgment or invalidating the feelings. Name the emotions and notice the thoughts that are feeding the emotions. Continue to use your breathe until it is regulated.

Make a list of things needed and then take action steps one at a. time

Freeze Mode

If you find yourself in a freeze mode, running in circles, clouded thoughts or even immobilized you can employ the 5,4,3,2,1 technique

Name 5 things you see: A tree, dog, grass, cars, a sign

Name 4 things you hear: cars buzzing by, bids, phone ringing, clock ticking

Name 3 things you feel: softness of your shirt, a/c blowing on you, feet on the ground (if they are not on the ground place them on the ground and gently press to sense your feet grounded).

Name 2 things you smell: the grass, perfume/oil

Name 1 thing you can taste: Perhaps keeping candy, gum, flavored water nearby to sip

After the STOP and 5,4,3,2,1 skills you can take a moment to bring awareness back to the present moment. Assess do I feel calmer, clearer, and more emotionally regulated? If so, proceed with your preparations or engage in an activity that is soothing or distracting. Look for more ideas and tips on Sacred Treehouse and Therapeutic Oasis Facebook pages.

For our local readers, we will be cancelling Tuesday evening meditation. However, I will be practicing at 6 pm so join me from your homes and will be sending Metta to all!

Proceed mindfully with greater perspective, wisdom, and self-control….and please be safe! Peace in this moment….even in the storm…look toward your center.

Patty Thomas Shutt, founder of Sacred Treehouse, is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches Dr. Shutt is passionate about helping others discover the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  She offers Beginner Meditation & Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse, in addition to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindful Self-Compassion and various book studies throughout the year.

Week 34/Workplace Mindfulness

All throughout my teenage and young adult years I remember my Dad offering words of wisdom about my career path. I recall him often saying “Do what you love and the money will come.” I heeded his sage advice, and followed my heart into a career in psychology. Not too long thereafter, though, I found out that even though I loved working with people, I was often drained after each work day. My motivation and zest for my job was waning. Even though I knew I’d chosen a livelihood that I was passionate about, the workplace stress I felt made me question if I was wrong about this path. The more I pushed through, the less I wanted to. And then, burnout settled in.

Statistics show that workplace stress affects many of us. In fact, a 2018 study indicated that 2/3 of professionals feel that their jobs are more stressful today than they were five years ago, and over 3/4 of the study’s respondents reported that workplace stress affects their personal relationships. Feelings of powerlessness over an imbalance between responsibility and authority; lack of clarity in job responsibilities; inadequate goodness of fit between a person’s skills/values and their job; and an unsafe or uncomfortable work setting that can even include traumatic events on the job can all be sources of stress for professionals.  Burnout often sets in when these stressors are ongoing AND when professionals are vulnerable to emotional reactivity when their resilience to stress has been compromised.

Mindfulness practices in the workplace are frequently prescribed to help increase motivation and job satisfaction, and I believe this is because of their powerful effect on stress. Practicing the following mindfulness strategies daily can significantly mitigate the effects of workplace stress:

  • single-tasking (versus multi-tasking)
  • mindful communication
  • intentionally slowing down during the workday
  • a daily formal mindfulness practice (even 10 minutes of sitting meditation works!)

I know from personal experience that my increased awareness of the early warning signs of work stress have helped me to nip a recurrence of burnout in the bud. And my practicing of non-judgment and self-compassion frees me up from feeling guilty about setting the limits I need to in order to also keep burnout at bay.

For additional reading, I encourage you to check out this article:

https://www.nytimes.com/guides/well/be-more-mindful-at-work

Nicole Davis is a licensed clinical psychologist at Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches  Dr. Davis has received extensive training in mindfulness, meditation, and yoga, and maintains her own personal practice in these as well.  At Sacred Treehouse, she facilitates group mindfulness courses, including Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention, and other mindfulness-based seminars and workshops. She also offers meditation & yoga classes at Sacred Treehouse.

Week 33/Make Room For Love

“Love, then, is letting go of fear.”  
Gerald Jampolsky, MD
 

“Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”
Winnie the Pooh

 
What is taking up the most room in your heart?  According to Gerald Jampolsky, anger, jealousy, resentment, and/or depression are all forms of fear.  So how to do you let go of fear?  How do you increase love in your heart?
 
Step One: It starts with a decision, a choice to identify, feel, and let go holding on to familiar (or even “justified”) experiences that close the heart.  These are the things that we can spend hours getting the people in our life to join us in believing – that we deserve to feel the various forms of fear.  It’s buying into the unfairness of it all; the unbelievable action of the other.  This is not to say we don’t cry our tears or express our pain, but then what? Do we hold on and cycle through more justification? At some point, the choice is between being right or being at peace.
 

Piglet: How do you spell love?
Pooh: You don’t spell it, you feel it.

 
Step Two: Find some way to feel love.  It can start with gratitude, appreciation, or remembering a moment that touched you.  For fear to grow, there needs to be an absence of love. For love to grow, there only needs to be a desire to open the heart. In our essence, we want to give and receive love. Have you ever noticed that doing an act of kindness for another actually swells your own heart?  It’s because giving generates the feeling of love within ourselves.  Watch a small child or puppy and their readiness to give love and affection, it can make the crankiest person smile unknowingly.  That’s because love, giving, and sharing are their own gifts—to you and those around you.  Practice what Pooh suggests…. Let small things help you to feel the love….. 

Photography by Ciro Coehlo

Anni Johnston, LMHC-S, BC-D/MT, CEDS, CYT works at Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Movement Therapist.  In addition to her therapy work, Anni offers weekly Beginner and Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse.  She also offers book studies and special workshops throughout the year.

Week 32/The Most Important Thing…

In a recent mindfulness coaching session, a client shared with me her new awareness of what is most important in her life. She expressed finding fulfillment each day and a greater sense of purpose, especially when spending her money in meaningful ways.  She uses her dollars toward something that matters, and the very idea of attending to what matters most to her has started to be the idea that matters the most.

This client shared with me her latest purchase from a website called “Who Gives A Crap”, which sells environmentally-friendly toilet paper and other paper products, and even uses recyclable packaging.  This company gives 40% of their profits to help provide toilets for people around the world.  It may seem like a minor detail, but the idea of being a conscious consumer is one way in which this client remembers what is most important.  And as for providing toilets for other people?  It may sound like a “crappy” job to some, but when you do any task with the intention of improving the lives of other people, it feels like a bonus.

As a psychologist treating complex trauma, I work daily with people who are suffering.  Other people often wonder how I can do this type of difficult work.  In fact, some people see it as a terrible occupation. It doesn’t feel this way to me.  I get to wake up every day and live my purpose – which is to reduce suffering and emotional pain.  It feels like a labor of love.  My second love is to teach mindfulness.  By sharing mindfulness with others, I teach someone “to fish rather than simply feeding them a fish”.  In teaching mindfulness through MBSR and MSC, I help other learn the tools to reduce their own discomfort.  This is what matters most to me.

Patty Thomas Shutt, founder of Sacred Treehouse, is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches Dr. Shutt is passionate about helping others discover the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  She offers Beginner Meditation & Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse, in addition to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindful Self-Compassion and various book studies throughout the year.

Week 31/Body Awareness is an Anchor

What exactly is body awareness?  Tolle discusses body awareness as a way to the “inner body” or our life energy.  Yogis call this life energy “Prana”; Buddhists use the word “Chi.” Our minds are often so busy we confuse thinking about and judging our bodies and as being “body aware,” but this is the antithesis of body attunement and awareness. 

Right now take a moment to sense your fingers from the inside out. You can do this with eyes open or closed– it’s not looking at your fingers, but sensing the energy or aliveness that is within each finger and giving your focus to that. If you quiet yourself enough you can actually feel your own essential energy–starting with one small body part and eventually, if the mind doesn’t get in the way, connecting to it throughout your entire body.  
The purpose of this is to connect with a more peaceful, aware state.  If you are agitated with a current circumstance, taking a few breaths and practicing some inner bodyawareness will help you get grounded and clear. This can prevent reactions with others and/or a way to catch negative impulses going on in your own mind; because IT IS beyond the mind. It also helps you be more in tune with your body’s natural desires for food, water, exercise, sleep, play, rest, etc. 

It is amazing how much people push and punish their bodies, demanding  from them more and more, and then become surprised when they crash- physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.  Accessing body awareness is not just a way to become more present for the bodies’ needs, it’s a way to simply become more aware.  As a practice in itself it creates an inner atmosphere of increased tolerance, kindness, patience, and calm—a surefire way to enhance every circumstance.

Photography by Ciro Coehlo

Anni Johnston, LMHC-S, BC-D/MT, CEDS, CYT works at Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Movement Therapist.  In addition to her therapy work, Anni offers weekly Beginner and Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse.  She also offers book studies and special workshops throughout the year.

Week 30/Could Nature Be the Antidote?

A wise friend said to me recently that when a person begins to crave being in the outdoors, something in them has shifted spiritually…that they have begun to genuinely embody a felt-sense that they are a part of something bigger.  Life and its pursuits take on a new meaning around this same time, and perspective shifts from one of obligation and going-through-the-motions to one of willingness and gratitude.

I like this way of thinking about spiritual evolution, and I think it also has special value for those of us who may need a little perspective-shift kickstart.  Are you someone who feels disconnected to your purpose in life or from others?  Do you feel annoyed and frustrated about work or day-to-day tasks?  Are you using alcohol or other substances to distract you from feelings of anxiety, overwhelm or to help you sleep? Have you become cynical or jaded when you were once optimistic and excited about making a difference in the world?  For people like me, who work in a helping profession, and for all of us who bear witness to others’ suffering, the above symptoms of empathy fatigue (also known as compassion fatigue, burnout and vicarious/secondary trauma) can wreak havoc on our ability to function and on our sense of self-worth.

Taking time out to enjoy nature.

Stepping into nature and allowing yourself to notice the intricacies and complexity of the world around you can be an antidote to burnout and empathy fatigue.  Surrounding ourselves with Mother Nature’s landscape is an instant reminder of our interconnectedness, and can lead to feeling re-inspired and rejuvenated. In fact, research suggests that experiencing nature with a beginner’s mind, allowing oneself to appreciate and savor through fresh eyes, is connected to increases in feelings of helpfulness, generosity, and ethical behavior.  Being in nature is also associated with lower levels of stress, anxiety and rumination, and can foster clearer thinking and more positive feelings about self and others.

So step outside into nature…if not a possibility IRL (in real life) in this present moment, then maybe journey outside in your mind.  Notice what you see, what you hear, what you smell.  Surrender to that sense of awe that comes.

Nicole Davis is a licensed clinical psychologist at Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches  Dr. Davis has received extensive training in mindfulness, meditation, and yoga, and maintains her own personal practice in these as well.  At Sacred Treehouse, she facilitates group mindfulness courses, including Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention, and other mindfulness-based seminars and workshops. She also offers meditation & yoga classes at Sacred Treehouse.

Week 29/Return to Breath: The Five-Minute Breathing Space

Returning attention to the breath offers us a path home when our thoughts and emotions have carried us into the depth of the past or the unknown forest of the future. Sometimes it can simply be a way to bring what Tara Brach has coined, “a sacred pause”, stepping out of autopilot and reconnecting to what is, in this very moment. 
 
As human beings walking the path of life, we wish for things to be known and predictable.  If we are honest with ourselves, our deepest desires are for things to be ALL GOOD, yet this is not the nature of life. Rather, we are in a web of interconnected forces of positive and negative energies.  These energies will invariably result in all kinds of experiences, including pain and pleasure; joy and depression; love and fear.
 
Mindfulness training can help us discover equanimity -the ability to be centered and stable despite the changing landscape of experiences. Training in equanimity is similar to preparing for an Iron Man competition rather than a 5K. It requires years of practice, teachings, and an abundance of patience and non-judgment during difficult moments that will test your composure. Developing an anchor to help steady you during the storms of life is one essential tool for building equanimity. Daily formal practice helps to strengthen this connection and paves a short cut that makes returning to it in difficult times much swifter, lending a hand to rebalancing when life side swipes us. 

Another helpful tool to carry with you on the journey of life is the Five-Minute Breathing Space , which can be utilized either at the beginning of formal meditation, as a brief midday meditation, or in a moment of distress.
 
The Five-Minute Breathing Space (adapted from the Three-Minute Breathing Space found in The Mindful Way Through Depression) is simple 3-step exercise to help you return to your center.
 
STEP 1. BECOMING AWARE
 
Begin by deliberately adopting an erect and dignified posture, whether you are sitting or standing.  If possible, close your eyes.  Then, brining your awareness to your inner experience, ask: What is my experience right now?

  • What thoughts are going through the mind?  As best you can, acknowledging thoughts as mental events, perhaps putting them into words.
  • What feelings are here? Turning toward any sense of emotional discomfort or unpleasant feelings, acknowledging their presence.
  • What body sensations are here right now? Perhaps quickly scanning the body to pick up any sensations of tightness or bracing.

 STEP 2. GATHERING
 
Then redirect your attention to focus on the physical sensations of the breath breathing itself.
 
Move in close to the sense of the breath in the belly…feeling the sensations of the belly wall expanding as the breath comes in…and falling back as the breath goes out.
 
Follow the breath all the way in and all the way out, using the breathing to anchor yourself in the present.
 
STEP 3. EXPANDING
 
Now expand the field of your awareness around your breathing so that, in addition to the sensations of the breath, it includes a sense of the body as a whole, your posture, and facial expression.
 
If you become aware of any sensations of discomfort, tension, or resistance, zero in on them by breathing into them on each in-breath and breathing out from them on each out-breath as you soften and open.  If you want to, you might say to yourself on the out-breath, “It’s okay…whatever it is, it’s already here: let me feel it.”
 
As best you can, bring this expanded awareness into the next moments of your day.
 
You can learn more about mindfulness training in the upcoming orientations at the Sacred Treehouse.  I am also including some suggested reading and a recording to help you on your path:
 

The Mindful Way Through Depression
 
The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion 
 
The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook
 
Five-Minute Breath Recording:

Patty Thomas Shutt, founder of Sacred Treehouse, is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches Dr. Shutt is passionate about helping others discover the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  She offers Beginner Meditation & Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse, in addition to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindful Self-Compassion and various book studies throughout the year.

Week 28/Love is the Way

Our inner state affects how we view the world around us. Most of us have experienced seeing a person or circumstance from a place of negativity, then having something pop that bubble of negativity and suddenly we are more patient, tolerant or accepting—even though nothing has changed outside of ourselves.   The more open we are to see the world from the lens of Grace, i.e. that things are occurring the way they are for a higher reason, the more we can say “yes” to life’s events.   This allows us to be open and even grateful, and with that the more love emanates from us to others.  

People can sense what we are experiencing.  We’ve all had the experience of walking into a room and sensing that a fight had occurred. Conversely most of us have had days when our hearts were full of gladness and we ended up seeing the beauty around us and having wonderful exchanges with strangers and loved ones alike.  As Hawkins says, “we transcend the smaller aspects of ourselves by accepting and loving them. We see the ego as “limited,” not “bad.” 

Every day is an opportunity to practice accepting our foibles, our sticky old patterns and instead to see them as some of our limitations, not our “badness.” It is also a chance to do the same for others at home and work.  Both of these practices will strengthen the other, for we cannot give what we don’t have and so it matters deeply that we are loving, patient and kind with ourselves.  Let the energy of love build in yourself and watch it silently transform your life.

Photography by Ciro Coehlo

Anni Johnston, LMHC-S, BC-D/MT, CEDS, CYT works at Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Movement Therapist.  In addition to her therapy work, Anni offers weekly Beginner and Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse.  She also offers book studies and special workshops throughout the year.

Week 27/What Room Do You Occupy?

Ridding ourselves from unnecessary fear is essential to living in peace. I wholeheartedly believe it is possible to discover peace while living in a world filled with so much destruction and strife. In my experience as both a therapist and mindfulness teacher, I have found that love is the antidote to fear and will swiftly raise anyone to the finest room in the house. Which room do you want to live in? You may believe that others control what room you will occupy and this belief is simply untrue. Even the most oppressed can gain inner freedom and joy through the power of love.

I find myself in different living conditions based on my daily habits and practice. When in alignment with my deepest intentions, fellow beings, and the Earth, I am living in a palace of peace. When mindful habits are moved down on the priority list and I allow the demands of others or my lower self to take control, I find myself in a dark, smelly basement feeling alone and afraid. By surrounding myself with likeminded people who illuminate the path back to the palace, I quickly find my way back. Once we experience the peace and freedom that the practice offers us, it is hard to remain in the basement for long.

In the past few months, those closest to me have witnessed me dwelling in the basement of fear and uncertainty. They have been impacted by the emotions flowing through me: fear, anger, and despair. For this, I am truly sorry. It is my hope to shed much love and light on them, helping to illuminate their paths. I am happy to say that I am out of the basement with the support and love of likeminded friends that also walk the path. Thanks, tribe!

It is unbelievable to think that we are now halfway through 2019. If you have been following “52 Weeks of Mindfulness” from the beginning of the year, now is a great time to look back at any intentions you created, as well as mindful living inspiration you have cultivated from this journey.

Have you set anything into motion? If not, why?

No need to judge harshly – simply note what has gotten in the way of your practice. If you have put your intentions into action, take time to note what is helping or supporting this change. If like me, you got side swiped and lost your groove, take time to hit refresh. Reset your intention, revise it, and get connected. You definitely deserve to experience better living conditions!

If you are local, visit us at our new location (definitely a palace). We have meditation, yoga, and mindful workshops to help you.

Our new palace:

851 Broken Sound Parkway NW
Suite 250
Boca Raton, FL 33487
(Located within Therapeutic Oasis)

Patty Thomas Shutt, founder of Sacred Treehouse, is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches Dr. Shutt is passionate about helping others discover the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  She offers Beginner Meditation & Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse, in addition to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindful Self-Compassion and various book studies throughout the year.