I arrived early to one of my yoga classes. A student, whom I’ll refer to as Deb, was also early so we had the chance to chat. Deb commented on how much she was enjoying the yoga classes. I asked her what the most obvious benefit was and she replied, “I’m not picking in between meals. When I get stressed, one of my tendencies here at work is to grab something and stuff it in my mouth. Now, I take a few deep, long breaths. It calms that urgency I feel, or that I used to feel, and I no longer have the craving to eat something.”
The reason for this is relatively simple. Deep breathing is an integral part of a yoga practice. Deep, elongated breaths activate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which signals the message ‘rest and digest’ to the brain. The nervous system responds in kind by producing a lasting, calming effect.
Alternatively, when people are ‘stressed out’, they usually take short, shallow breaths which activate the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). When the SNS is activated, it signals the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ message to the brain. This increases the stress hormonal levels adrenaline and cortisol. When a real threat occurs and then passes, these hormonal levels usually decrease and go back to normal. Worry, anxiety, and depression, on the other hand, seem to linger and last longer. The SNS perceives these emotions as a threat whether a situation is imagined or real. Consequently, the cortisol and adrenaline hormone levels remain high.
Overeating is just one of the many garden variety ‘quick fixes’ that masks stress, but food and other pseudo solutions such as smoking, drinking, and alcohol consumption don’t do anything to decrease high cortisol and adrenaline levels. Studies have shown however, that a routine yoga practice helps to release this excess energy. The body’s energy is no longer ‘pent up’ or ‘stuck’ and can move easily and flow more freely again. Studies have also reported that yoga in general increases serotonin levels, which acts as a natural anti-depressant in the brain.
Results from evidence-based clinical studies have revealed that yoga can also help with many physical ailments including back pain, cancer, arthritis, migraines, and osteoporosis. The journal Headache reported that a routine practice of yoga can decrease the number and intensity of headaches. The study suggested that the stretching elements of yoga helped to balance the areas of constriction in the body that caused the headaches. Another study in the Journal Pain found that people who attended weekly yoga classes for four months reduced their back pain by 66 percent. They also reduced their intake of pain medication by 88 percent.
The National Institute of Health has funded many research studies on the benefits of yoga. Findings suggest that yoga might:
- Help with conditions such as insomnia
- Increase lung capacity
- Improve muscle relaxation and body composition
- Improve overall physical fitness, strength, and flexibility
- Positively affect levels of certain brain or blood chemicals
- Reduce heart rate and blood pressure
For anyone seeking an inexpensive complementary wellness therapy, yoga is a practice that can be easily integrated into a weekly routine. Beginners, advanced, and anyone in between are welcome.
Yoga is now being offered at the ECHN Cancer Institute to staff, patients, families and the general public. Tuesdays: 4:00 -5 pm; Wednesdays: 4-5pm and 5:30pm-6:30pm. Cost: $12.00
When I think of fear and how insidiously it penetrates the human mind field, I can’t help but think of those tazer guns cops use. The voltage coming out of those dinky little weapons actually contain enough power to knock someone flat out and unconscious. Or worse, can make someone spasm more uncontrollably than a wet fish just abandoned by the sea.
Fear causes a very similar reaction in the body. Think of the lion and tinman upon their first encounter with the Oz. You’d think they just got tazed, but they didn’t. Fear caused them to shake like that. But whether one is laying flat out and tazed on the floor or involuntarily convulsing in fear, the outcome is the same: constructive action is no longer possible.
Fear even comes on like a tazer. It shows up unexpectedly, usually for no good reason, and takes you out while all you were trying to do was get from point A to point B. Now what causes this to happen? When the mind of fear is confronted, it will stubbornly defend itself using righteous, stealth-like justifications. Its intention: to stay put and hold its position. Only with the intelligent mind of conscious reason and compassionate redirection can it be overcome. As the current of fear becomes acknowledged and addressed, the process of its elimination can begin. Or, can at least be deactivated enough to allow the feeling of bliss its proper channel and flow. For the electrical penetration of one moment’s bliss passing through the body’s terrain provides enough courage to confront and remind the psyche’s inner phantoms that non-movement is not safer and dull is not better than nothing at all. We need bliss to experience our happiness, creativity, and life force, but we also need its strength to penetrate the dark, dingy caverns within where fear contently festers and forces us to accompany its illusions.
The biggest challenge to overcoming fear however, is identifying it. Fear often manifests as everything but itself. Its symptoms run rampant and are often ‘felt’ and even treated, but rarely is the root cause accurately diagnosed. This invisible force usually shows up under the guise of excuses, sickness, bitterness and busyness, all electrical magnetic detours to maintain staunch detachment from the heart’s true desire.
Dissolving such a seductive force is possible, but it requires the ability to recognize its many masks. To redirect or transform this debilitating force field, it must first be identified and located within the psyche. Then reasoned with, confronted, understood, and reeducated. For fear is loyal and will act according to its belief. It is the guard at the gate keeping its master ‘safe’. And will do so at all costs. Fear doesn’t care that it’s withholding one’s inherent potential, joy, or creative self-expression. At the risk of feeling shamed, rejected, or deterred, again, it will fight to protect what good is left. It will and often does obstruct anything that resembles the terrifying threat of expansion. But with the electrical force of an atomic velocity that contradicts life itself.
It is a lifetime of volleying back and forth from reality to illusion, illusion to reality, until one day the mind simply says no to anything that is not real. Then fear will have no other choice but to leave, and bliss will be allowed to exist in its natural habitat.
It’s unfortunate that memories have to include our entire past. Wouldn’t it be great if we could select only the ‘good’ ones? Remember the happy and forget the sad? Unfortunately, the capacity of the unconscious is way too vast for this to happen. It has the uncanny ability to magnetically record and store every waking breath of our history. And then, continue to replay our stories – whether the conscious mind chooses to remember them or not!
The good news of this reality is that there are positive, constructive memories to draw from and expand upon and/or re-create. The bad news is that painful memories are often repressed and subconsciously interfere with current situations and relationships. This invisible meddling often causes feelings of vulnerability and will strongly defend against being ‘open’, a pre-condition necessary for genuine connection with others.
It is possible to be open without feeling vulnerable, or ‘open to attack’ as the Webster dictionary defines it, if you’re willing to feel. But ‘to feel’ requires the ability to accurately identify, then manage, the constant battle that occurs within the psychic spheres:
‘Open up, jump in, feel good’, loving kindness gently nudges as the sirens of withdrawl and belittlement react, ‘Close that heart, you fool! Protect yourself!’
This subconscious dialogue bombards the inner mind field quickly and often, usually without any self awareness that it’s even happening. This divisive chatter can be heard by the ‘inner ear’, usually leaving the conscious mind out of the loop. So here are some tips to identify whether you’re responding from the state of openness or vulnerability:
- Openness accepts pain and sadness. Vulnerability insists that that’s all there is.
- Openness allows for the courage to navigate through emotions. Vulnerability insists that you’re too weak to take the voyage.
- Openness allows for the acceptance of total self. Vulnerability insists on denying any part of self that appears threatening.
- Openness allows for discernment and wise choice. Vulnerability insists on resistance and isolation.
The next time you’re feeling vulnerable, ask yourself, ‘Am I really being attacked? Is it true that I will be rejected? Or am I projecting my own insecurities and fears onto another person?’ Set your intention to know only the truth. Then let the miracles of bliss work its way through you.
To the extent that you allow the power of your life force to flow, to that extent will you be able to dissolve the illusion that ‘being open is dangerous’. As self love becomes the natural state of being, dependency on others will dissolve because feeling good will no longer depend on them.
Having an ‘over-the-top’ reaction to something? Feeling triggered beyond reason? It’s possible that a piece of your mind remains stuck in child-consciousness – that level of the mind that continues to believe, and react, as you did – way back when.
Thought forms that have not ‘grown up’ with the rest of you, don’t realize that it’s ‘now’. These thought patterns continue to respond as you did in the past (as a child or adolescent) which means — you’re really not here in the present, or at least, a part of you isn’t.
Child-consciousness is difficult to recognize because its voice is often clothed and covered in a myriad of defense systems. So you rarely, if ever, hear the echo of the child buried beneath.
Anger, withdrawal, anxiety, and fear are among the many masks of child consciousness. It also hides behind behavioral disguises such as smoking, overeating, alcohol dependency, and perfectionism, to name a few. Illness is another one of its favorite ‘costumes’. Below is an example of how child consciousness played out with ‘Dave’, a 47 year old male:
Dave was used to chasing women. In fact, Dave preferred the chase more than actually going out on dates. Dave never married and began to wonder why. He decided to enter therapy. During his therapy sessions, Dave talked a lot about his father’s long-term affair and how much he wasn’t home during Dave’s pre-teen and adolescent years.
As Dave’s awareness began to increase, he realized that he made a certain conclusion that was still controlling his behavior: His father cheated on his mother and he would do the same. Dave also concluded that a commitment would only lead to bad behavior, and therefore, chasing women was ‘safer’.
Ok, so now that Dave had this insight, it would seem that all he needed to do was feel the pain of his father’s absence, re-educate his thought patterns (that he’s not his father), and redirect his behavior, right? Not necessarily….
You see, the problem is two-fold. Dave didn’t bond or receive the attention and love from his father – which is the easier of the two to heal. The more complex, and elusive, issues are the false conclusions that Dave chose to believe as a result. For example, Dave missed his father, so he tried to get him to come home more often by exerting excessively ‘good behavior’. Dave also concluded (mistakenly and unconsciously) that his father was not coming home because something was wrong with him.
Based on these false conclusions, Dave tried to become ‘better’ and ‘right’. Dave began to exert extra effort into everything. He tried to please, to be good, to excel – in sports, academics, yard work, it didn’t matter what – as long as he kept trying. Stopping to acknowledge or appreciate his accomplishments was the only thing Dave didn’t try, because that would cause him to feel what he didn’t accomplish – his dad’s return.
Dave’s strategy worked as an adolescent. It distracted him from feeling the sadness of what he truly longed for. And, his excessive efforts did get him attention and recognition. His excessive efforts became a major issue, however, when he tried to apply his adolescent solution to his adult life. In Dave’s adolescent mind, he never attained love and affection, he only chased after it. His adolescent intention was never to ‘give’ love; it was to ‘get’ love. That doesn’t work in an adult relationship.
As Dave’s process of emotional development unfolded, the wisdom of his inner divine consciousness began to penetrate. As Dave felt and grieved the screaming demands of his unmet childhood needs, his ‘excessive trying’ began to cease. The voice of the child finally began to simmer as his adult consciousness intervened.
So what does all of this psychology have to do with God? I think Jesus Christ said it best, “Thy must experience according to thy belief” and “The truth will set you free”.