Week 40/Discovering Inner Fitness

Is there anyone who doesn’t have a bucket-load of information about what being “fit” means?  It’s everywhere! We are given “fitness guru” suggestions on billboards, TV, radio, magazines, the web and anywhere information is being streamed.  Fitness has become such an American obsession that it has begun to do real damage. It is painfully evident that many in this country are struggling to achieve and maintain what I’ll call “inner fitness.”  When stripped of the toxic body-perfection messaging, and considered in a balanced way, what really are the core areas for outer/physical fitness?  Mostly they are: strength, capability, flexibility and stamina. 
 
What if the culture were to value these same core areas when it comes to Inner Fitness?  Imagine the positive impact if every student actively learned inner skills for creating and maintaining inner strength, increased capability, flexibility and, stamina.  The good news is that this can be achieved no matter one’s age, circumstances, or state of affairs. 
 
Taken into a different framework and redefined into the language of mental/emotional or spiritual dimension, these areas can also be described as:

  • Strength as the ability to manage, to not buckle under stress, to believe in one’s ability to do, of seeing one’s growth where before there was weakness, faith in self or God/Higher Power, trust in self/others, and an “I can” inner voice.
  • Capability as the having the skills to accomplish something, increasing knowledge, growth and confidence, having all you need inside yourself, trust in self/skills, and an “I am able” inner voice.
  • Flexibility as being able to think and react creatively, able to work with others and see their point of view, finding solutions that weren’t obvious, letting go of disappointment or control when needed, and an “I’ll find a way” inner voice.
  • Stamina as endurance, not giving up even when you want to, forbearance, deferring rewards and rest until later, finding inner grit to finish and do something really well, and an “I’m not going to give up” inner voice.

Take time each day to practice one of these areas or model them for children and others.  Promote learning and developing these traits through books, classes, trainings, and/or counseling as something you are doing to be a well rounded, highly able person. In this high-paced, demanding, and stressful world Inner Fitness will bring you to a higher level– inside and out.

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 38/Walking Towards the Light

Seeing is not limited to the eyes. When I truly ”see” another person, it requires the act of seeing with the entire body, mind, and spirit. There is nothing more moving than to catch a glimpse of a person’s inner being of light; it is probably the closest thing to seeing God. For the past 20 years, mindfulness training and practice has been a path to strengthening this gift of “seeing”.
 
At first, it was my heart that awakened, allowing me to detect the light and true self of each being. This awakening isn’t permanent and we often fall back into the trance of our conditioning, awaiting the next opening to the light or truth of another being. Once we have witnessed enough times the true self of another, we begin to trust that it is always there – even when it exists in the dark. This is where the magic happens. As the underlying truth and being of another is held in loving-connected presence, it appears right before our very own eyes, ears, heart, and mind.
 
You may be wondering how a daily mindfulness practice moves you toward seeing the light in others.  Consider the following:

  1. It cultivates the habit of coming home to present moment awareness.
  2. It breaks us free from conditioned automatic thinking.
  3. It creates a momentary space between thoughts and allows us to experience now.
  4. We gain greater insight into the way our mind and body perceive the world.
  5. We find there is a way out of conditioned thoughts, feelings, and reactions and begin to walk the path….

 
May you walk towards the light!

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 37/Kiss the Earth With Your Feet

Walking can be both a formal and informal mindfulness practice.  During walking meditation, we bring present moment awareness to the movement and sensation of the body as the feet rhythmically alternate between lifting and making contact with the earth. As a fast walker, I found it difficult to practice walking meditation.  I am conditioned to rushing throughout the day.   My colleagues often admonish me for being too loud in the hall or tease me by saying, “We heard you coming.”  I feel bad about disturbing others and even a little bit of shame for being so loud.
 
It was difficult to train myself to slow down and I often found myself resisting with thoughts of “I hate walking”, or “When will the bells ring to end practice?”   As I started to settle and my practice took root, I found it less irritating when then the bells rang to initiate walking meditation.  Inevitably I would fall back into my hurried hustle down the hall, caught in the cycle of noticing and slowing down.  The cycle continued day after day, year after year.
 
Then last year I encountered a problem with my feet that was causing constant discomfort.  It gradually increased over time until it was painful to walk. Pain was a great reminder to my pace and pressure, encouraging me to slow down with each step. I was deeply immersed in the study and practice of self-compassion, which allowed me to tend to the pain in my feet with great kindness and care. I was able to embrace the discomfort with loving-attention, using this circumstance to slow down and become intimate with my feet.
 
This experience opened the door to a greater appreciation for my body and its unique needs.  Through mindfulness, I was able to attend to the problem that caused pain, bringing attention to my feet and my stride.  Today I feel gratitude for the absence of pain.  The discomfort I experienced is replaced by a feeling of joy as I have now discovered a deepening awareness of walking meditation and self-compassion.
 
Some simple steps (no pun intended) for walking meditation practice:
 

  • Choose a clear, open space to walk  (approximately 5-8 feet in distance).
  • Stand still in mountain pose and bring all your attention to the sensations in your feet.
  • Slowly begin to lift your right foot and silently whisper, “lifting”.
  • Then moving the right foot slowly through space, whisper, “moving”.
  • Then gently place the heel of the right foot down and whisper, “placing”.
  • Continuing with full intention and awareness, begin to lift the left foot, following the same steps as before.
  • Continue with this pattern until you reach the end of the path. Pause to re-center your body into mountain pose and slowly turn in a new direction to repeat the path.

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 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 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 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 22/ What Holds Your Attention?

Take a moment and contemplate the last time you just stopped.  You weren’t checking email, texts, watching TV, doing bills or errands… you were just resting.  Our culture is concerned with “what we do (for a living),” “what we did (on the weekend),” or “what was done (at work).”  But this constant striving, outputting of energy is costing us all. We are tense with our children and spouses, we are short with co-workers, or unable to appreciate our friendships because our “to do” lists seem to be constantly knocking on our inner doors.  This keeps us out of balance.
 
The masculine energy of action (both men and women have this) is a wonderful driver, but the feminine energy (yes men have this too) of being and receiving is an essential counterpoint to all the doing.  When I’m on silent retreat, sometimes for 10 or more days, I find in the first few days my mind and nervous system seem to be unspooling from daily life- despite daily yoga and meditation. Not everyone is inclined or able to do long retreats, but everyone can take a day for rest.  The tradition of the Sabbath was to pull us away from our constant doing, to rest and contemplate those things beyond daily life.  A day of rest, even if not done weekly can refresh your Soul and help to put things in perspective. As the old saying goes, “no one wishes on their death bed they’d put more hours in at the job.“ 
 
What we wish for is we’d taken more opportunities to explore, attended to the little moments of sweetness along the way, and had given and received more love.  On a Soul level we know this to be true but our mind is always pushing.  Try on a few hours of just resting.  Completely unplug and either alone or with someone dear to you just stop, listen and notice what is right in front of you.  As William Blake says:
                    

“To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
An eternity in an hour.”

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 19/SAVOR: Discovering the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

After maintaining a consistent mindfulness practice,  you may begin to notice what feels like a slowing-down of time. Yes! Like time is actually moving slower! This, in fact, was the first and maybe even the most precious gift I received in my early days of practicing meditation regularly.  What a joy to have more time for things … imagine how much more I could accomplish!
 
What accompanied this sense of slowing-down, though, were an insatiable curiosity, a desire for stillness, and an overall sense of peace.  I found that while I felt time moving more slowly, I didn’t want to fold more laundry or organize more of my garage … rather, I wanted to see, hear, smell and feel the world around me in 3-D technicolor … I wanted to immerse myself in the beauty of others, nature and of all of life itself. I began to allow myself to drink in the freckled cheeks of my children and to linger in the scent of my lover’s freshly shaven face. Rather than devouring my meals in front of the TV, I began to deconstruct the complex flavors I’d spun together and reveled in the multi-sensory experience of my food. This desire to savor my daily experiences has led me to discovering so much extraordinary in the ordinary. And even more, I have begun to see opportunity where there seemed only roadblocks, connection where conflict might have been, and calm where there may once have been storm.
 
Savoring allows us to not just be fully present in the moment-to-moment experiences of life, but encourages us to lean into these experiences in order to encode memories for later retrieval. Additionally, research shows that humans tend to adapt to positive experiences really quickly, leading to the well-known “honeymoon” effect of intense joy about a joyful or positive event that quickly wears off.  When we attend intently and mindfully to these moments, science says we can extend these honeymoon phases of life, leading to more joy. It is the attention-grabbing nature of savoring what is pleasant that increases contentment and gratitude. And with our powerful tendency towards remembering and creating stories around negative experiences (aka the negativity bias) it is all the more valuable for us to take that extra few moments to wrap ourselves up in the beauty that is right now.
 
I encourage you to take the time to savor in your day-to-day life too, whether you practice mindfulness regularly or not.  Use this mnemonic to help you:
 

SAVOR 

Slow Down — intentionally move more slowly through your day when you can, allowing for the opportunity to notice more of what you encounter.
 
Attend — bring your awareness and attention to whatever you are doing or observing.  Use your senses to explore the experience fully.
 
Value — acknowledge the extraordinary in the experience and how your being present for it brings value to your life.
 
Open — allow for a sense of openness and willingness to see things from a new perspective or vantage point.
 
Reflect — once the experience has passed or ended, take an opportunity to call to mind what you experienced and see if you notice similar emotions arise.

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 18/Allowing Pain & Suffering to Be Our Guides

Do you want to suffer less and have more happiness and contentment in your life? The word duhkha is a common word in Yoga and Buddhist philosophy – it translates as suffering. Most of us think that pain and suffering are synonymous, but what if I told you that one was actually optional?

Pain might be the experience of grief, sadness, anger and any other emotion or perhaps a physical experience of pain, but none of these are suffering. Pain is actually separate from suffering – we experience the physical or emotional pain of an event when it happens, but it is our RESPONSE to that pain, and our ongoing RELATIONSHIP with that pain, that leads to our optional suffering.

A common experience is when a parent/spouse/child – someone with whom you have an ongoing, intimate relationship – has done something in the past that has hurt you or made you angry. When it happens again in the present, instead of your current reaction being related to this single occurrence, it gets tied to all past events and emotions as well, leading to pain plus suffering. Then, there can even be anticipatory emotions about what might be coming – suffering for something that hasn’t even occurred! A less charged example is that you stub your toe hard and it really hurts! That’s pain. Now, though, you can’t exercise until it heals and you love and need your exercise; you’re very upset about this. That’s suffering.

Being free from suffering does not mean you are working toward not feeling, toward a somehow emotionless life; this is a misunderstanding. We experience and become a witness to our emotions, but we are NOT our emotions. They are discrete experiences, right here, right now. It’s not a denial of emotional pain, but a shift in perspective – it is what it is, as people now say, and nothing more.

It’s our attachment to what is pleasant, our aversion to unpleasantness, and our linking of experiences together that causes the suffering – the wanting and the pushing away. Allow the pain/emotion to rise, experience it, be a present witness to it, try not to identify with it, and then, be mindful to not feed it or let it get tied to anything other than this present moment. It takes practice, and acceptance is key! Hopefully, over time, this will help you create a different relationship with your pain.

Yours, in service, K.O.

Practice Steps:

  1. Notice the emotion or physical sensation that is present (the pain), like a worry or tension in the body.
  2. Pause – be curious about it. Make a conscious decision to look at it.
  3. Allow the feeling or sensation to fully rise up within you, being conscious that the feeling or emotion is simply an experience – try not to identify with it as anything other than an experience. Keep the experience to the “right now” moment and be conscious not to get caught up in the past.
  4. Observe any insight that might arise around the sensation or emotion. Be mindful to stay present in the “now” as an objective observer.
  5. Have compassion for the pain you are experiencing.
  6. Connect within yourself to a feeling of wholeness and spaciousness.
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.  Coming this Fall, KO will be offering workshops and one-to-one yoga therapy appointments at Sacred Treehouse. For more information, visit sacredtreehouse.org.  You may also visit her website at goodspaceyoga.com.