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Posts from the ‘Stress Management’ Category

The Yin and Yang of our Minds

Modified Landscape from Plane Pearl Michel - Copy

Life is making us all stretch a bit more than we think we can these days.  But the part that needs more emphasis, more stretching, is the right hemisphere of our brains, not the left.  Insomnia, overthinking, worrying, even the “high” of constantly being plugged in to our computers are all examples of left hemisphere focus and over-activity.   Wherever we put our attention, that’s where our synapses grow. The eyes and vision are constantly being over-stimulated by computers, flat screen reading on smart phones, tablets and TVs.

All this focused laser-like mental activity is substituting drive for stamina. We wind up draining what
reserves we have, drying up our body fluids and essence, further depleting our stamina.  This issue has been raising its head lately with clients, as well as myself, and so I thought it would be a good topic for this blog.

We live in a culture that revels in imagery and quick, compacted information to be sorted at some point, creating a great deal of clutter in our heads.  And like cleaning our rooms or desks, there needs to be time to sort and empty what is useful from what is not.  It is the right hemisphere of our brains that is responsible for this practice of emptying our minds, which is basically turning down the left hemisphere activity.   Clearing one’s mind could be as simple as establishing a block of time for reflection or daydreaming watching the clouds go by.  Or it could be more structured as in meditation,  chanting mantras, or  prayer.

The right hemisphere is also where our other senses thrive, as well as our holistic vision, where our overview perspective exists, rather than our linear 2 dimensional “flat” mindset.  In Chinese medicine it is the Yin aspect of our minds, [the receptive, the substantive, the reflective part] which needs to balance the Yang aspect [the collecting, the inquiring, the sharp focus part].

Yin Yang 2

Then there are the activities that require both sides of the brain together, utilizing yin within yang and yang within yin.  That is the latest Neuroscience information, that we use different parts of both hemispheres to do different tasks.  These activities can include playing or listening to music, writing or listening to poetry, creating art, practicing visualizations,  cooking, or just being outside smelling the air and luxuriating in the sun, or listening to birds during their morning symphony.  These activities can be used to create balance in our minds and in our lives.

Here is a side note:

Learning a musical instrument is so important in grade and middle school because in utilizing both hands we are developing both hemispheres of our young brains as well as the nerve fibers between them. And this enhances overall brain function. Children who study a musical instrument do better in math and reading. And by playing in a band or orchestra they also learn cues from others,  an important function of combined hemisphere activity.

There is an exercise I once read about that was a true awakening for me about the First-Nations people.
Part of the training of a young warrior’s life was going out into the forest, then sitting and looking around.  After a few minutes, the young child closed their eyes and began telling what they saw, or as much as they could remember.  Seeing is more than just our eyes and vision.  It’s also our brain’s interpretation of what sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensory information available.

This poses the question:
What do you really see when you look? Are you looking with your whole brain or only part of your brain?
Here is a Ted talk that put a whole new light on right and left brain activity for me. Enjoy and practice the yin yang balance of brain activity as often as you can.



Balancing the Emotions Part 1: Cultivating Peace

After watching the video I realized that there was more to this story than just explaining how to do this technique. It is true that balancing our emotions uses the acupuncture meridians in the hands to moderate the movement of qi in our mental, emotional, physical, and perceptive awareness’s.
Yet it is our perceptive awareness, our Shen, that makes this technique so powerful.

In that light, two aspects of this exercise need further exploration.
The first is: holding a particular finger and allowing ourselves to feel or sense whatever happens, not trying to do anything except breathe.
The second is: cultivating a rhythm of moving through our emotions, learning to be present in our sensing, and finding peace. Practicing this exercise at the same time, place, and for the same amount of time each day can create a stronger sense of rhythm, and moving through our emotions becomes easier.

Allowing and developing a sense of rhythm and presence are keys to cultivating peace.
There is an inner stillness or silence that can be entered with practice. Peace and silence isn’t an absence of noise or emotion, just as health is not just the absence of illness.
Rather peace is a centeredness, an awareness of the dance of movement and stillness, a cultivation of being present in our lives.

“The way of Silence is more joyful than most other spiritual practices mainly because it is not a path at all, and only requires that we look around and “feel”. And as we notice these qualities of noise, it is possible to clear them, though not by doing anything in particular. Each time we notice some new noise we also find it possible to go even deeper into Silence, and this is the deepening that does the clearing.” [Robert Sardello – Silence: The Mystery of Wholeness]

Another way to practice this technique is to go outside, sensing our emotions with the sounds and silences of nature – the wind, the birds, sounds of a park, of the beach, of a sunrise or sunset. Learning to carry our inner stillness with us in the world not just in moments of meditation, this is truly a practice of gratitude for being alive.

The art of breathing

Buddha_croppedLately I have been practicing exhaling, in several different ways.

Yesterday I learned how to put my face in water and blow bubbles out my nose. As a child it was a challenge to calm my breath while playing in water. Yet I loved water and my mom couldn’t get me out of it once I was in it. But I never learned the art of how to breathe while swimming. Having grown up in New York City, most of us kids learned to swim at CYO camp or just jumping in and out of the surf after a long train ride to the beach.

Now many years later I finally learned what so many who have been swimming since childhood already know. You can’t swallow water if you are blowing bubbles out your nose.  And I learned this from my granddaughter, an avid swimmer, who was teaching my grandson how to swim.

So with goggles on and my focus on the exhale, I got my first live glimpse of how the light travels underwater. And this new experience was both soothing and exhilarating. It has cleared some cobwebs from my mind.

As we sit between seasons, the LA version of spring trying to be summer, and so much in our society trying to decide whether and how to move forward, it is easy to get caught up in the stress of changes.  It’s moving too fast, it’s not moving fast enough, two steps forward one step back, the pace of change for many of us has been a little unnerving.

Yet my small lesson in focusing on the exhale has opened my mind to creating safe havens in this turbulent river. The art of breath is not so much about what you take in, as it is about what you let go of.

Focusing on the exhale, the inhale happens by itself, more naturally, and with new insights.  The rhythm of that movement of the diaphragm has a soothing influence on the brain, which then sends calming chemical messages throughout the body.

So when things get tough, and your mind is on overwhelm, be aware of your breath. How often do you stop breathing? Is your breathing fairly shallow? Are you struggling to take it all in?  If you place your awareness on exhaling, you get to take in what you need, without the struggle.