breathing for health

No one needs to convince us why we need to breathe. Sometimes, however, we need convincing as to why we should do it consciously, with awareness. Study after study shows us that intentional, abdominal breathing has direct affects on the body – this is good news. After all, it is free and can be done anywhere, at any time. Stress doesn’t have to get the best of us! By just a few minutes spent each day on the practices I’ll be describing below, one can invoke healing in the immune and nervous systems. This stuff calms the mind as well. Don’t we all need that, especially during this time?

When I demonstrate these techniques to my patients, I first begin by putting one hand on my chest and the other hand on my abdomen. This sort of check-in tells me whether I’mPhoto on 7-27-20 at 7.34 PM #2 breathing into my chest (shallow breathing) or whether I am taking a fuller breath in so that my belly expands (this is what we want). If my breathing is in my chest, I can consciously imagine my next inhalation moving deeper down into my body. I do this – as many breaths as it takes – until abdominal breathing is comfortable. Try it for yourself now. See what I mean?

From there, I love to move on to the 4:8 breathing technique. This is done by inhaling for 4 seconds, pausing for a second, then exhaling for 8 seconds. Simple, right? I like to do this for about 5 rounds or so. At that point I am really starting to notice the effects. The 4:8 breathing technique is so wonderfully calming.

Another way to encourage this kind of slow, rhythmic breathing is to use visualization. This was taught to me by one of my best yoga nidra teachers, Kamini Desai, PhD. With each exhalation, image that you are blowing the air out through a straw. So that’s inhaling through the nose, pausing for a second, then exhaling with softly pursed lips as if blowing through a straw. Really see that breath being pushed out through a skinny tube to slow everything down.

Another technique that involves counting, but in a much different way, is to count each inhalation and exhalation. Work downward, from 10 down to one. Some people recommend counting only the inhalations or the exhalations, while others recommend counting both. So, it would look like mentally/silently saying to yourself ‘10 I am inhaling…10 I am exhaling…9 I am inhaling…9 I am exhaling…8 I am inhaling,…’ and so on. When I was training in hypnotherapy, I was reminded that counting down (not up) was important to encourage greater levels of relaxation.

We all know that stress equals disease onset. In our overly-stressed society, conscious breathing has become a necessity. Not only do our bodies benefit, so do our minds. After all, the mind and body are linked – they make up a whole. You could even say that they are ONE. While these techniques are for anytime and anywhere, I find that they are perfect upon waking up each morning as well as at bedtime. That’s because an AM breathing practice sets the tone for the day, while the PM practice supports the melting away of stress and the day’s residue. It even adds to a solid sleep hygiene routine. With consistent practice, I expect that you will see a difference. I know I did.

If you’d like one-on-one coaching for stress management or support with your health goals, contact me. I can assist you in breathwork and in building a mediation practice. I offer guided imagery, hypnotherapy, and yoga nidra (a sleep-based meditation), in addition to counseling services.

 

Here’s to your health,

Kim

To order my book, Extraordinary Dreams, click here.

the body is always there

When you think about your life, what has been your guiding compass? Maybe it has changed over time, or evolved in some way. Our bodies can be this guiding compass, serving our highest good.

Our bodies are tools or vehicles providing us tangible or visual form to a feeling, a quality, or a state of being. How does this come about? Well, first know that the body is not the servant to the brain, as some believe. Through the practice of embodiment, and getting out of our head, we attend to sensations. From this calm, quiet space, we can gain new knowledge.

Let’s try a simple exercise: As you continue to read the next paragraph, maintain awareness of your posture. Be in your body fully, as you make any physical adjustments, scratch an itch, or shift your weight.

Yes, the body can produce new knowledge if we are patient and make room for it – areas of experience in which we were previously unaware can come forward. Embodiment is a non-verbal human trait. It is the present time felt experience of awareness in a moment as it is happening (Tantia, 2011). Embodied knowledge precedes cognitive awareness. Some have said that our autonomic nervous system is the system of the lived experience. By practicing the skills of embodiment, we may discover that some sensations do not have names or commonly used descriptive elements. That’s okay! One client I worked with earlier this week, used the term “Crinkly” to described his inner experience which was a combination of sensation with visual form located in a specific area of his body. Staying deeply in his body and experiencing what was manifesting in that moment provided him with information beyond what his thoughts, beliefs and judgments could offer. This bodily information system helped him make a decision about something he needed to do; The decision being an informed one from both his intelligence and his inner awareness.

Goldstein (1993) noted, “Practicing mindfulness of the body is one of the easiest ways to stay present in daily life…Our body is quite obvious as an object of attention, not subtle img_5092like thoughts and emotions. We can stay aware of the body easily, but only if we remember to do so” (p. 139). Are you still aware of your posture, in this moment?

With practice, we can experience embodiment while going about our day. If you are new to this, I invite you to put your electronic device down and close your eyes if that is comfortable for you. Take a few conscious abdominal breaths. Notice various sensations. Any areas of tension or numbness in the body? This is a beginning step which can expand embodied awareness with time dedicated to practicing.

Remember, the body is always there. Consider it a trusted guide, a lifelong friend, a forbearer of self-knowledge.

May we continue to blossom along with the coming spring season,

Kim

To order my book, CLICK HERE.

References:

Goldstein, J. (1993). Insight meditation: The practice of freedom. Boston, MA: Shambhala.

Tantia, J. F. (2011). Viva Las Vagus!: The innervation of embodied clinical intuition. The USA Body Psychotherapy Journal, 10(1), 29-37.

mindfulness

Everything I have shared here over the past four years, through the Conscious Chimera blog, has had an impact on my life. Every anniversary article, like the one I am writing this month, is extra special because they highlight subjects that are not only impactful, but have a special status in my life. Lucid sleep was the topic of Conscious Chimera’s 3rd anniversary article, and this month, for our 4th anniversary article, I will focus on mindfulness – it’s been over a year since I wrote on this subject. Mindfulness is a term that some have come to dislike. Is it because it is unclear, in vogue, an umbrella term, or something else? I don’t know, yet in this article I will provide some credible definitions and explanations to start. Mindfulness is so important because without an aware, mindful state, maintaining lucidity in dreams can be nearly impossible. Mindfulness practices support conscious dreaming and a conscious waking life.

So what is mindfulness? Mindfulness may be considered both a trait and a state of being, as well as a skill, and it may also be considered a practice or style of meditation. Through the cultivation of such a state, mindfulness expert Joseph Goldstein (1993) explains that mindfulness “uncovers the characteristic nature of experience itself.” But let’s not jump too far ahead. Becoming more mindful can be simple.

There are numerous ways to enter this “wakeful” state: anything that brings attention into the here-and-now by way of body, breath, and sensation, Goldstein (2013) explains. Consider these additional explanations by others in the field:

Mindfulness is bringing “neutral attention and non-judgmental awareness to body, breath, and sensations as well as anything passing through the field of awareness” (Desai, 2017, p. 230). Jon Kabat-Zinn, in a 2012 interview, stated, “Mindfulness is about love and loving life.” How perfect for this time of year – I’m a big fan of Valentine’s Day. Rick Hansen explains mindfulness in simple terms. He says, mindfulness means “being able to stay in the present moment, moment after moment after moment.” Sounds easy, but even simple tasks like this can be challenging. After all, most human minds are used to doing what they want to do, whether that be fixating on an issue from the past or imagining what can be cooked for dinner later that day.

Even with the simplest and most clear definitions, mindfulness is a huge topic, to include a variety of diverse practices, with no single agreed upon meaning (Davidson & Kaszniak, 2015). Disciplines such as yoga, tai chi, or qi gong cultivate mindfulness. Anyone can benefit from these.

As a psychologist who serves a lot of parents in my psychotherapy practice, I often get asked if mindfulness can be taught to children, and how to go about that. Yes, we can definitely teach mindfulness to children. According to Goldstein (2013), second graders have said, “Mindfulness really gets me calm,” and “Mindfulness helps me get better grades.” Isn’t that what every parent wants to hear? Other children have said “Mindfulness helps me calm down when I get upset. It also helps me with sports and to go to sleep at night.” Further more, second graders have stated, “Mindfulness is the best thing I have done in my life,” and “I love mindfulness.”

Both adults and elementary school aged children can begin their mindfulness journey in the simplest of ways. For example, attending to sensation while washing your hands is img_4983one way. What does the soap feel like on the skin? And the sensation of the water running over the skin? Is the water hot, warm, cool, or cold? Another way of practicing mindfulness is to ring a chime or bell, then stay completely focused on the sound until it is no longer detectable. After, notice all other sounds in the environment. A third example could be to smell some things in your environment and really stay with the scent. If your lunch is in front of you, that makes this easy. If not, look for flowers during a walk, or a bouquet at the office. From the two photos here, you probably have an idea of what I love to smell – haha! Seriously, if you are at all like me, you might even carry a sachet of dried flowers or an essential oil in your bag. This is one of the reasons why I make dream pillows (see my product page for an idea). A final example for this article would be to stay connected to your breath. Notice each inhalation and each exhalation. Are you img_4965taking long deep abdominal breaths, or are they shallow, in the chest? Just noticing and staying connected to the senses and the body are ways of entering a mindful state. I hope you are encouraged to bring mindfulness into your daily life.

Research on mindfulness reflects numerous benefits of a sustained mindfulness practice for both body and mind. If you live in Northern California, consider attending my upcoming March presentation: The Art of Presence 101

Interested in knowing more about mindful-based practice? Write to me at kmascarophd@gmail.com

May you be mindfully aware in your daily tasks and your wildest dreams,

Kim

To order my book, click here!

today’s meditation

Last month (Nov. 2017), I concluded the Conscious Chimera article by revealing my openness for dreaming with a deceased loved one that night. I awoke the next morning, November 1st, surprised, yet appreciative, for during an early morning dream I answered a phone call from my deceased paternal grandmother. Wow – I dream with her so rarely! In the dream, we spoke briefly, similar to our phone calls when she was living. She told me she was fine and asked how the family was doing. After our check-in, and knowing that everyone was doing well in general, we ended the conversation. Then, I woke up. This dream was not nearly as profound as the dream I had immediately prior to her death, but I am always grateful for whatever way the grandmother-granddaughter relationship can continue. For this month, I decided to write about an important practice: mediation. A meditation routine supports dreamwork as well as good health. So, that is what I present here, today.

As I sat this morning, on my turquoise cushion, tracking my breathing – each inhale and each exhale – I realized I had not written on this aspect on conscious experience since conscious chimera began. “Not now,” said an inner voice, silently disciplining the mind. As any experienced meditator knows, another distracting thought is just around the corner. Anything to take us away from the task of following the breath, or staying with img_2452present awareness. New associations, distant memories, dinner planning – it doesn’t matter, we know distractions arise. While simple, disciplining the mind is no easy task. We learn to gently become the boss of our conscious attention. The mind can argue with us about this. “You can do this meditation thing later, the kitchen needs cleaning… weren’t you supposed to call your mother!” Staying with the practice is an important aspect of the practice itself. Additionally, as we increase awareness in the waking state, we may discover increased awareness in the dream state.

Over the past decade or so, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been taught meditation, as a sitting practice, by contemporary mindfulness practitioners as well as by those immersed in Buddhist-centered traditions (Tibetan Shambhala is one example). But that is not how I began. At 19, my introduction to meditation began with primarily movement-based practices. My Tai Chi and Qi Gong instructors were exactly what I needed in my early years. Back then, it was difficult for me to sit still and nearly impossible to jump right in to tracking thoughts and disengaging mental chatter. Those early experiences served me well and built the foundation for what was to come. Later, in the mid-2000s, I was introduced to a focusing type of meditation, which involved vocalizing vowels (e.g. “Aaaaaaaaahh”). This proved effective in many ways. The practice was active, but in a new way, and the shift in the mediation space was palpable, thus reinforcing. Dedication to those exercises, as a result, took dreamtime to a new level, giving rise to desired lucid experiences.

From my own history of meditation, I have come to view the mind as sort of an entity, with its own agenda. It doesn’t want to sit still. It doesn’t want to go quiet. For me, it seems to enjoy planning for the future and fantasizing about adventure. Fortunately, with practice, there is noticed improvement. Not only can our health and general functioning improve, but we come to see that we do not have to react to the junk life throws our way. There is no need to respond to that mental ‘director’ that does not 12079055_842446395876012_8916130318488297582_nalways know what is best for us. After all, it is not our true essence. The irony is that through sustained, ongoing meditation practice, we come to experience truth, connection to the all and everything…our true essence, our very nature. And sometimes, our practice can lead to a creative project, like a written piece for a blog, such as this one.

If you have never meditated before, but want to start, commit to 10 minutes a day to start. Literally, schedule it – put it on your calendar. Then, at the appropriate time, silence the phone, TV, radio, etc., find a comfortable place to sit, set a timer for 10 minutes, and simply focus on your breath. Mentally track each inhale and exhale. When you catch the mind wandering, come back to the breath. It’s not a contest – if the mind wants to judge or ridicule, fine, but the task for the 10 minute period is to focus on the breath, so just come back that rhythmic cycle again and again, as often as needed. After a solid week (or month) increase the sitting time by 5 minutes. See what you discover from the simple daily 10 minute routine. You might discover something new, when in dreaming or waking.

Questions? Comments? Contact me! I’d love to hear how your meditation practice has enhanced your lived experience, whether asleep or awake.

~Kim