Tag Archives: mind body medicine

Mindfulness and Dharma Talks with Tara Brach

The past two months I’ve witnessed my head space and thoughts move to a better place due to Washington D.C. based meditation teacher, Tara Brach. I first heard about her thanks to Maria Popova over at brainpickings. Through listening to her dharma talks via podcast and using some of the guided meditations on her webpage I have found deeper compassion for myself and a healthier way of viewing the world. Her teachings offer a chance to move from victim-hood to being an agent of change in your own life and others.

If you have the opportunity to scroll through her past talks Parts 1 and 2 about the “Power of Self-Compassion,” will give you new insight into the human condition and how to deal with it.

One titled, “Earth’s Crisis,” created an arena for me to deal with my own fears regarding the worldwide ecological crisis.

A Generous Heart,” explores not only why generosity and giving make us feel so good, but how creating that space in our heart can actually help us heal ourselves and our relationships with others.

Perhaps my favorite part of the podcast, aside from the peaceful state of mind it puts me in and the space for reflection on current issues in my life it creates, is all of the great quotes, anecdotes, poems, and comics she shares with the audience. From Rumi to Emerson to comics about things like a mouse with a cat psychiatrist, and everything in between, Brach infuses each lecture with references that either make you laugh or truly do inspire. Here are just a few that I’ve enjoyed so far.

  1. From Paul Hawken’s 2009 commencement speech, “In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe, which is exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a “little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven.”
  1. Also from the same speech, “Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.
  2. From Cami Walker, No matter how much we have materially, we are often in a place of scarcity. We never think we have enough or that we’re good enough. Instead of getting lost in a sense of lack, once we realize we are part of something bigger, it becomes clear we have many gifts to offer the world.”
  3. From George Eliot:

If you sit down at set of sun
And count the acts that you have done,
And, counting, find
One self-denying deed, one word
That eased the heart of him who heard, 
One glance most kind
That fell like sunshine where it went —
Then you may count that day well spent.

  1. Joanna Macy’s poem, “Bestiary.
  2. From Rumi,

    Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
    and rightdoing there is a field.
    I’ll meet you there.

    When the soul lies down in that grass
    the world is too full to talk about.”

Finding Community, Finding Health

community

I’ve recently read two interesting articles touting the importance of community for our health and how loneliness can effect it negatively. In one article, Dr. Lissa Rankin presents the idea that eradicating loneliness from our life is a form of preventative medicine because scientific research has shown the risk factor for illness due to lack of exercise or smoking is less than that of loneliness. In another, Susan Pinker, author of The Village Effect, explores the health benefits brought on by living in a village. If the feeling of being alone can affect our health in a negative manner, then community should have a positive effect.

Dr. Rankin presented the case of a group of Italian immigrants who settled in Roseto, Pennsylvania. Despite their love of fried meatballs, heavy and starch-laden meals, smoking, and alcohol consumption the community was incredibly healthy when compared to national averages. Researchers who examined the group came to the following conclusion, “…the tight knit community living in multi-generational homes and enjoying communal dinners and frequent festivities provided solace from the loneliness so many people feel. The love and support of others in the close knit community alleviated the stress and overwhelm many lonely people feel. Researchers posit that the stress lonely people feel, which increases cortisol levels and activates the sympathetic nervous system, raising heart rate, elevating blood pressure, incapacitating the immune system, and increasing the risk of heart disease, is responsible for much of the illness lonely people experience.”

Susan Pinker lays out the benefits of community like this: “When you are getting together face to face, there are a lot of biological phenomena: Oxytocin and neurotransmitters get released, they reduce stress and allow us to trust others. Physical contact unleashes a whole chain of events that make us and make the other person feel good, and affects our health and well-being.”

According to Pinker, research suggests that humans have never been as lonely as we currently are. Her book investigates how people who live in small villages continue to receive the benefits of community, while those living in the modern world may not. She notes that it isn’t realistic for us all to go live in small villages and is sure to point out that she doesn’t want to romanticize village living, but there are things we could stand to learn from the village model. She offers the following tips: “You can create your own village effect. Get out of your car to talk to your neighbors. Talk in person to your colleagues instead of shooting them emails. Build in face-to-face contact with friends the way you would exercise. Look for schools where the emphasis is on teacher-student interaction, not on high-tech bells and whistles.

Through personal experience I have come up with a few more tips of my own. I had the privilege of serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala. In doing so I lived in a small Mayan village in the Western highlands. While it is crucial to point out, as Pinker did, that village living should not be romanticized and every town has its own share of issues, the advantages of a small community are obvious. You know people, they help you out, when you can you repay the favor. Round and round it goes.

Coming back from Guatemala was a bigger culture shock than moving there in the first place. I found myself in supermarkets checking-out with cashiers with little time for small talk as they kept the line moving. When I smiled or greeted people on the streets I felt like a crazy person, rather than a well-intentioned fellow citizen. I went from sharing afternoons with farmers who have all day to chat after their morning work, to wondering if the person across from me who keeps glancing at their cell phone is even listening to half of what I was saying.

Susan Pinker talked about creating our own village effect and here are some ways I was unknowingly able to do just that upon returning from village life (most of these were employed in Madrid). This sort of thing takes time and patience, but has the chance to greatly alter your quality of life.

  1. Shop in small, family-run stores or co-ops. Know your grocer.  Know your butcher if possible.  If you eat bread find a local baker. At the right shops or markets you may even have the pleasure of knowing the person who grows your food.
  2. Become a regular at a restaurant or coffee shop. This can be trickier than it sounds, some places I go all the time and nobody knows me, at others I have a great time.
  3. Meet your local homeless people. How many homeless people do you know by name? Everyone has their story. If you walk to work in a city there are endless opportunities to meet people you can interact every single day and make a part of your life.
  4. Value your current family and friends, this is the ideal place to invest the majority of your time.
  5. Join groups that interest you or learn a new hobby.
  6. Volunteer.
  7. Skip the ATM and meet your bank teller.
  8. If your around when the postman (or woman) comes get to know them. It wasn’t so long ago families knew their milkman, paperboy, and postman.
  9. Put your phone away while talking with others. To really receive the benefits of connection and communication we need to be PRESENT.
  10. While walking around town allow your intuition to guide you into new situations. This usually happens if you aren’t lost in stressful thoughts.  Last week I stumbled into an Italian cafe and ended up making plans to start a language exchange with the barista. Last night I happened upon a good deal for a meal and ended up meeting a fellow English teacher.

Everyone has their own recipe for finding community. Above all be patient and gentle with yourself. The love of a community starts with self-love on the inside of each of us. When you start to love yourself you will know what your heart wants and following that can help lead to community.

The Beautiful Benefits of Self-Reiki Everyday

51hOz25n6UL._SY355_Self-Reiki-Badge

The above quote is a beautiful prayer, as well as the precepts or principles of Reiki. Even for those who don’t practice Reiki, reciting these words can be a wonderful way to start the day on a positive note and go forth with a pleasant mindset. I like to carry it written on a card in my back pocket.

Today marks about six months practicing Reiki and the completion of the Reiki Level II certification for me. After each certification the practitioner commits to a 21-day cleanse, including a full Reiki treatment each day, either self-treatment or for a family member, friend, or patient. Over the past six months I would say I have practiced Reiki on 70 percent of the days, but I am taking this day, and the beginning of this cleanse, as an opportunity to commit to practicing at least some Reiki, if not a full treatment, every single day. By announcing it publicly I will be inspired to keep true to my word. The website of Pamela Miles, a prominent Reiki master, helps by providing the above badge to share on your blog.

So what are the benefits of self-Reiki everyday? Here is a list of the most common benefits Pamela Miles has seen in her practice:

  • Improved sleep
  • Improved digestion
  • Less anxiety
  • Less pain
  • Improved focus and memory
  • Improvement in depressive symptoms
  • Reduced side effects from medications and medical procedures
  • Faster recovery from injuries and surgery
  • Mood stabilization
  • Enhanced resilience to stress
  • Improved self esteem
  • Greater social ease and satisfaction
  • Greater sense of meaning.
     http://reikiinmedicine.org/reiki-basics/can-reiki-healing-help-me/#sthash.hM3IcheL.dpuf

You can see more about how Reiki benefits people here. She explains how Reiki balances us and allows our natural healing systems to take effect. It helps us shift from operating in a state of stress response to a state of rest response.

In my own case Reiki has helped me manage nerve and anxiety issues. As you can see in my first post, up until recently, I wasn’t feeling well at all. Aside from chronic fatigue I was dealing with a lot of nervous system issues. Between October 2013 and June 2014 I was averaging either a panic attack or nervous breakdown each week. I would wake most days with a different part of my body tingling or numb. I always felt strange nerve sensations. Sometimes I had trouble getting my fine motor skills to work properly. My limbs constantly felt weak. Sciatica pain abounded. Once in awhile my vision would be a bit blurry. My digestive system faltered as well. It’s not surprising that parts of this list read like an MS* faq sheet. These symptoms are all nervous system related!

With time, patience, and a steady practice of Reiki, along with homeopathic treatment, I am feeling like my old self again. Once in a while I’ll have a bit of sciatica recurrence, or a strange sensation, but the majority of the symptoms have disappeared and the severity and rate of recurrence of the others has greatly diminished. These minor flare-ups usually come after a stressful day or when I haven’t taken time for myself and self-care.

Reiki is a simple practice that allows you to take healing into your own hands(literally). It isn’t a cure-all and doesn’t replace the importance of seeing a health practitioner, but it will greatly improve your quality of life and sense of well-being. For those who don’t have the time or resources to get a regular treatment, getting certified for self-treatment is an excellent option. I encourage everyone to give it a try 🙂


*Author’s note: At my Reiki Level II certification there was a woman who was diagnosed with MS 24 years ago. Discouraged by the lack of hope offered by doctors she pursued alternative therapies like acupuncture and reflexology. She tells me that thanks to these interventions, as well as a clean and balanced diet, she has been able to live an active life with occasional flare-ups, but relatively few symptoms compared to the picture the medical establishment had painted for her. She currently enjoys Reiki as another tool in her toolbox to help support her central nervous system. This note is not intended to state that allopathic medicine doesn’t have its merits at times, but rather to offer some hope to those who have been offered little to none.

Mindfulness and Energy Reserves for Work and Life

suit

 “When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

My friend Chema seems pretty average on paper.  He works at a bank full-time.  His busy schedule only permits about five and a half hours of sleep each night.  Like most workplaces, at the end of the day all of his coworkers complain about how hard a day it was and how tired they are, Chema is right there complaining along with them.

Chema is someone I look up to a lot as a role model.  He’s actually one of my heroes.  You see, Chema has a secret.  When all of his coworkers start to fuss and bellyache at the end of the day, he does too, but he’s just playing along.  He isn’t worn out or beat and he didn’t have a hard day.  He complains for a variety of reasons: out of solidarity, to keep face, so people won’t accuse him of not working hard enough, to avoid sounding condescending or holier-than-thou, but never because he is tired.

Chema sleeps so little because for him its enough, but more importantly because it creates time for him to meditate…a lot.  He tries to sit for 45 minutes in the morning before work and for 90 minutes in the afternoon or evening.  As the founder of a mindfulness mediation group in Madrid, on top of his full time job at the bank, he leads two to four donation-based meditation classes each week.  With so little sleep and so much on his plate I wondered how he could have any energy left at all for his own meditation or personal life. When I asked Chema he replied, “I have an abundance of energy.”

He went on to explain that when you are mindful at work you don’t use any energy and when you meditate you create more. According to Chema mindfulness means being present in each moment and conscious of each action. Through practice one can learn to be more and more aware of each passing moment, such as observing each step on your walk to work. Chema says that as we become more aware we aren’t distracted by our thoughts and emotions and don’t waste energy brooding, worrying, or getting upset. We simply observe “reality” without judgment and without becoming entangled in it. It doesn’t mean unpleasant emotions or experiences won’t arise, but that we can accept them without identifying with them. We get upset less and learn to respond to others with more compassion. When we make a mistake or get angry we understand why we did and don’t beat ourselves up about it. We begin to find humor in ordinary things and generate more positive emotions. When we learn to accept things as they are and spend the day in a state of equilibrium our energy flows towards where it needs to go and we don’t waste time or energy getting lost in the superfluous.

I offer Chema’s story not as an illusion of something we will all attain overnight, but rather as a lifestyle to aspire to if you wish to live a less hectic, more tranquil life. He is living proof that the stereotypical busy office lifestyle doesn’t have to result in stress and despair, that modern life doesn’t have to be so complicated. He has demonstrated that when you make your work just another part of your life, rather than something separate and negative, then your quality of life can improve and an abundance of energy is not out of reach. When we seek inner peace, rather than grasping for happiness all around us in the form of temporal experiences and material objects, we will see joy sitting like a flickering spark, waiting to burst into flames.

Chema isn’t the only one who believes in the benefits of meditation.  Many scientists around the globe have been conducting studies and amassing evidence of the benefits of meditation, new ones come out all the time.  Click here to read about a recent study done by Harvard University.

“Knowledge does not mean mastering a great quantity of different information, but understanding the nature of mind. This knowledge can penetrate each one of our thoughts and illuminate each one of our perceptions.” – Matthieu Ricard


Author’s note: Chema has 19 years of meditation and mindfulness practice under his belt, this article isn’t intended to imply that everyone should sleep so little.  Most health practitioners would agree that a good night’s sleep is fundamental to our health and stress management.

 

Link

Please follow the link below to read a great article by Amy Lansky.  She is the author of Impossible Cure, an incredible book on homeopathy that helped me put my own healing journey into perspective and understand the workings behind my experience.  The article below gives a nice introduction to homeopathy and the basics on how scholars and scientist believe other energy healing modalities work.

http://expandedconsciousness.com/2014/10/16/when-you-have-the-right-vibe-its-not-a-coincidence-synchronicities-energy-healing-and-other-strangeness-in-the-field/#Dh2JqSLYLHjV5HLE.01

A personal case study: How much does our mind affect our symptoms?

Back in Spain again. The frightening images begin to replay in my mind. Lumbering up subway stairs fatigued, only to find myself nearly too weak to push open the heavy door. Leaning on a desk for support in front of a full class of students, pretending to feel OK. Waking up with fear every workday, wondering if I’ll have enough energy to get through it. Hours and hours in waiting rooms and on public transportation between appointments with people who have little time for me, lacking the personal touch most doctors don’t seem to possess anymore. Standing on the scale to see I’m 20 pounds below my normal weight and then being told by various specialists that I’m allergic to many foods or that my body won’t tolerate other ones…what to eat to keep from withering away? The terror of being in a crowded subway train full of people with sniffles and sneezes on a rainy day after having a doctor tell me my immune system was functioning at a sub-par level. Frightful hours on the internet trying to figure out what the heck is wrong with me (never a good idea).

Suddenly, being back in Spain, old symptoms start to show up again. It doesn’t make any sense. You see, I felt fine over the summer. After close to 10 months of getting worse and worse and then eventually slowly improving, from what was determined to be Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome, I had a pretty great summer back in California. It wasn’t perfect, there were bad days and moments of doubt, but for the most part I was pretty normal. My symptoms were mostly under control. I had started doing activity again. Light hiking, short jogs, yoga, I was even starting to get back into surfing. I could enjoy a beer or glass of wine without instantly feeling light-headed. I took trips to Mexico and New York. I was back up to my pre-Peace Corps weight and looked just the same as before I left.  Most importantly, I didn’t go to bed wiped out, wondering how I’d feel the next day.

So how could this be happening again? This year in Spain was supposed to make up for last year. I was actually going to have energy to dedicate to my English classes and students this time, rather than feigned enthusiasm masking a depressed-laden exhaustion. But here I was…manifesting many of the same symptoms I thought I had overcome. Strange nerve sensations made my arms feel numb. My sciatica was back, and my legs felt weak when I walked. I was sore all over and felt nausea when I tried to eat. I had trouble getting down most types of food. My groin, parts of my arms, and chest were red and itchy. Physically I felt like I had been catapulted directly back to the land of all of the issues from before.

Logically it didn’t make any sense. How could changing geographic locations, returning to a place, bring back all of this? At home I was fine. This went on for 3 to 4 days as I explored the issues at hand and dove into my emotions about the whole thing. Once I was honest with myself I realized that I was afraid I would get worse again and thinking about a lot of “what if” scenarios regarding my livelihood. It was starting to look like last year because I was afraid it would be like last year. I was consumed by a subconscious fear that had worked its way to the surface. I cried and I panicked. It was all one, big nervous breakdown. At last as I slept one night I had an overall sense of calm wash over me and I knew it would be okay. The next day I felt back to normal.

To what extent do our thoughts and fears dictate our experiences? Just what’s lying below the surface of conscious thinking? How do we put ourselves in a place of mind to thrive rather than thrash about? To choose health rather than illness?