Breathing naturally

Given that one of my investigations is to find out how relaxed I can get and still be awake, I have something to share. I’ve become aware that some of us do not breathe naturally, and I think it could be keeping our nervous symptoms from experiencing the relaxing, healing benefits of going into the parasympathetic (rest and digest) state of the autonomic nervous system.

I imagine everyone is aware that breathing is a function that we have some control over, and also that when we don’t pay it any attention, the breath will continue on its own, unconsciously. We may be told how to control our breathing in yoga or meditation classes, or in voice or speech classes, and some students may then infer that these ways of using the breath are somehow better than normal breathing and adopt them into their everyday lives.

Stress and trauma affect our breathing too, and unfortunately for many, living with stress has become a way of life, at least temporarily. The breathing pattern, however, may remain disordered.

We may also adopt a disordered way of breathing due to pollution and attempts not to inhale smog, smoke, aromas, dust, pollens, and so on. Some people who believe they have asthma may actually have a breathing pattern disorder.

There are many benefits to learning how to breathe naturally. I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned and experienced myself regarding breathing.

First of all, the natural relaxed breath does not have a rhythm like a metronome, where inhalations and exhalations are regular and evenly paced. Yes, when we exert ourselves, our lungs work rhythmically to bring in the oxygen and release the carbon dioxide that our bodies need.

The relaxed breath is different.

If you have an opportunity to watch an infant or young child breath when asleep, you will notice that sometimes the breath is like that, with regular inhalations and exhalations. And sometimes it’s not. The child may take a fuller breath. There may be pauses between breaths when it seems they skip a breath. This is not like sleep apnea, which is a disorder where people struggle to get enough oxygen in their sleep.

Some of these pauses can last for awhile, but the inhalation does return. (If it happens a lot, see a specialist.)

Thank you to Dr. Fritz Smith, founder of Zero Balancing, for educating me on this in Inner Bridges and classes.

This pattern — sometimes regular, occasionally with bigger breaths and pauses — is what I mean by natural relaxed breathing.

I noticed in meditation that sometimes I lightly controlled my breathing. This is probably something I adopted from a yoga class years ago or from meditation instructions.

I wanted to stop doing that and breathe naturally. What I did was check in with my breath, pause after an exhalation, and simply allow the next inhalation to arise on its own. I’d repeat that cycle a few times, and then I would move my attention to something else. I did this a couple of times a day for a few days. My body took to this more relaxed, effortless way of breathing, and I don’t manipulate my breathing any more unless I consciously want to. Natural breathing has become easy and joyful.

I’m not saying that breathing exercises are bad or not to do them. I’m glad to know that I can influence my autonomic nervous system with my breath, because sometimes I want to calm down quickly (by lengthening my exhalations), and other times I want to quickly increase my alertness (by lengthening my inhalations). I also love nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) for calming and balancing.

What is particularly bringing me joy now is something that happens when I’ve been meditating for awhile. (I’m guessing at least 30 minutes.) Sitting still means the body doesn’t require as much oxygen as when active, and my breath naturally slows and gets shallower. Often, my breath gets so light that I can’t tell if I’m inhaling or exhaling.

Watching my breath doesn’t change it. There’s a principle in physics that when you observe an object, it changes the object’s behavior. But when you are in a non-dual state, everything is one, and there is no separation between subject and object. It’s a marker, if you like.

I may segue into a state where I am simply being breathed. There is no effort. There is no will. The breath rises and falls on its own, and I simply witness. Source takes over, and I surrender. I feel touched by the sublime.

What to bring to a vipassana course

Just got back home yesterday after taking my second 10-day vipassana course at Dhamma Siri, Kaufman, Texas. I reached new abilities to sense subtle sensations and found deeper stillness and inner silence. Reentry into the real world has been easier this time as well.

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Plus, I made eye contact with a bobcat. More about that later.

While it’s fresh, I want to put into writing what to bring next time. I am into avoiding unnecessary suffering for myself, and others. It doesn’t mean that I can’t sit with some discomfort and be equanimous — and discomfort is inevitable unless you already are sitting still for 12 hours a day, day after day. Your low back, mid-back, upper back, shoulders, hips, knees, feet — at least one area of your body is going to feel the strain — and this is an unavoidable part of the process.

The pain and discomfort are necessary to get the full vipassana experience. Meditation isn’t all about transcendence. It’s about learning to witness and accept the truth of what you are experiencing with equanimity. You become more familiar with your mind, craving what isn’t there and feeling aversion to what is there. Continue reading

After my first 10-day Vipassana meditation course

On Wednesday, August 9, I got up early, loaded my car, made a home visit to massage one of my regular clients, and drove from Austin to Kaufman, Texas, a 3.5 hour drive.

BTW, my client commented afterwards that it was really a great massage. He even had a waking lucid dream toward the end of the session. I attribute that to his learned ability to relax deeply while staying awake and to me having more presence and being more tuned into him and myself. I knew that for the next 10 days, I’d be stepping out of my everyday life and meditating quite a lot without distractions. I didn’t have my normal everyday thoughts about logistics (travel, meals, timing, errands), which made a huge difference in my ability to really be present. So it started before I even left town.

IMG_0175I arrived at the Southwest Vipassana Meditation Center near Kaufman mid-afternoon. I registered, was assigned a room in the women’s dorm, and surrendered my wallet and cell phone. I had left books, computer, and writing materials at home.

I unloaded my stuff and set up my room, which was small, furnished with an extra-long twin bed and a plastic chair and small table, with open shelves and a place to hang clothing, and a bathroom with a shower. And a big window looking out on trees and clothesline. Very simple and adequate, and yet this particular Vipassana center is considered one of the more luxurious centers worldwide. Continue reading

Habit tracking simplified

I do much better when incorporating new behaviors into my life when I have a way to track them that’s visual and shows more than just a few days. I found an online PDF, Habit Tracker, that has space to track up to 17 behaviors for one month, so you can easily view trends, skipped days, etc.

One of the activities that is motivating when trying to develop a new habit is checking off each time you do something on a monthly calendar. When you’ve done it for a few days in a row, you see your streak of successfully incorporating the habit, and you don’t want to break the chain. This technique was attributed to Jerry Seinfeld, but he doesn’t claim credit. Whatever. It works!

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Source: https://www.clementinecreative.co.za/reach-goals-free-printable-habit-tracker/

Continue reading

Orienting to stillness, orienting to motion

I started this blog to document meditating every day in 2010. My blog posts got kind of boring and I ended up broadening the topic, but before the year ended, I had made some big decisions, changing my approaches to work and home that resulted in living a more authentic, self-realizing life.

Selling my house and quitting my job with no clear path ahead were not changes I would have undertaken had not my meditation practice compelled me to make them for my own well-being and trust that the Universe and my own capabilities would come through. There was uncertainty along the way, and luck, but I figured I could always rent a room and do temp jobs to support myself, and that gave me courage. (I rented a room and did a few temp jobs on my path!)

However, I really wanted more than that for myself: I wanted to own an affordable, paid-for home in Austin, Texas, and I wanted to do work that I really loved. And I got those things.  Meditation helped me understand that not living authentically was no longer possible for me, and I’m happy with those decisions. Continue reading

A tale of recovery: my path from traumatized to healer

I had lunch a few weeks ago with John, someone I’ve known for about 12 years but haven’t seen much in recent years. He commented that I am a very different person now from when he met me, and that would not be apparent to people who hadn’t known me that long.

When we met in 2004 (I think), I seemed troubled to him, and I was. John said that now, I appear to be happy and “like a fountain” (which I love), and he was curious about that.

Other people have said I’ve changed more than anyone they know. Well, that’s probably because I was starting from a more troubled place than most.

So I’m reviewing my path in search of insights to share. This is for you, John, and I know that some of you are interested in recovery from trauma, and some of you are interested in personal growth, so this is for you too. Continue reading

Gift suggestions that increase well-being

If you’re looking for gift ideas for those you care about, here are a few suggestions. Since I am a licensed massage therapist, that’s where I’ll start.

Although there are a few people around who don’t like to be touched, most people enjoy a professional massage that’s tailored for their needs: the right modality, the right pressure, the right length. One thing people say they’d do if they had unlimited resources is to get massages more often.

Massage gift certificates are welcome gifts, especially with a personal note from you letting them know how much they deserve to be pampered. If the recipient is a busy person, adding the promise of watching the kids or making dinner afterwards so they can enjoy the afterglow is an extra nice touch. Continue reading

Reversing diabetes: Phyllis’ return to health. Part 3.

This is Part 3 in a series of posts telling what Phyllis did to reverse her Type 2 diabetes. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here, or go here for a summary.

To recap, Phyllis was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2003. She was exhausted from a stressful job and commute and wasn’t eating right. She knew she needed to stop using the comfort of eating to offset stress. First, she quit her job. She connected with nature and quiet, found support, and began making changes to her diet. Doing Trance Dance helped her connect with an inner intuitive voice that advised her to eat a more alkaline diet. More changes were in store for her…

Family Constellation Work and Byetta

About this time, Phyllis started working with Gwendolyn Terra, who introduced family constellation work to Austin. Gwendolyn and Phyllis were roommates for a while and hosted/facilitated constellation sessions every Sunday.

Constellation work focuses on enlightening and healing the unconscious beliefs that often follow family tragedies and dysfunctions, affecting multiple generations, a kind of emotional DNA. These patterns are held in an individual’s energy field. A trained facilitator can help an individual clear patterns of unhappiness, failure, illness, and/or addiction that have been holding them back.

Continue reading

Reversing diabetes: Phyllis’ return to health. Part 1.

We’ve all heard the bad news: the percentage of Americans with diabetes has risen sharply since 1990. The CDC says over 12 percent of the adult population is estimated to have diabetes, and more than one-third of adults are now thought to be prediabetic. Two million more people are diagnosed with diabetes every year, and the rate is rising.

I’m talking about Type 2 diabetes (insulin resistance), which 90-95 percent of diabetics have, rather than Type 1 (in which the body no longer produces insulin), diagnosed in just 5 percent of diabetics.

Why is this alarming? Having diabetes increases the risk of serious health issues including heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, amputation of toes, feet or legs, and early death.

Doctors now know that living a healthier lifestyle (that means watching your diet and exercising) is key to preventing diabetes. Exercise and diet are important. But once full-blown Type 2 diabetes has been diagnosed, can it be reversed?

I’m writing this to tell you it can. This is Part 1 of a four-part series on how Phyllis Lejeune reversed Type 2 diabetes with diet and exercise, and in the process got off twelve prescription medications and lost over 100 pounds.

If you don’t have time to read all these posts, here’s a summary of Phyllis’ hero’s journey back to health.  Continue reading

Riding the energy of the New Year into life skills

Happy New Year from wellbodymindheartspirit!

It seems natural to me that after the indulgences of the holiday season — after all the parties, feasts, special foods, and alcohol consumption lasting from Thanksgiving through New Year are over — I want to simplify, clean up my habits, rebalance.

This is the energy begetting New Year’s resolutions. January is the soberest month, after all!

But how best to work with that energy? I’ve learned from personal experience that most of the time, those good intentions don’t last a whole year. (One exception: I did meditate nearly every day for a year, back in 2010, when I launched this blog. The following year, I was so sick of the daily discipline, I became quite irregular at it. Back on track now, figuring 5 out of 7 days is just fine, and 7 out of 7 is awesome!) So it’s good to think about how you know when you are done. How can you be successful actualizing your intention? Is it related to a specific time period, mindfully learning a new habit that you then do mindlessly, achieving a particular goal, or something else?

I’m riding that energy to use the first two weeks of January to clean up my diet. I’ve resolved to go dairy-free through January 15th. Then I plan to do challenge testing of dairy products, partaking of them again and noticing how they affect my body. My nutritionist, Olivia Honeycutt, will help me through this, building on the food records I’ve been keeping for the past several months.

I’ll probably start with the fermented stuff, yogurt and kefir, which may be easier to digest, and then go on to test cheeses, also fermented, and finally the hard-core dairy products I like, cream and butter. (I haven’t drunk milk in many years, so that won’t be an issue.)

After those two weeks, I’ll have a better idea of which kinds of dairy and how much (if any) my body can handle well.

It’s not that I’m sick (I was, before going gluten-free 7 years ago). Now I’m experimenting with which tweaks to my diet make me feel even better.

I’m also using this period to cut grains out of my diet. I’ll be experimenting after that with ways to prepare grains in ways that don’t rob my body of minerals from phytates and that maximize digestibility (soaking and sprouting first). I miss the texture of grains sometimes, like rice and quinoa. The cookbook Nourishing Traditions has tips on how to prepare grains (and everything else) in healthful ways.

Sugar and honey and other sweeteners are also going by the wayside during this period, except for that daily small piece of 85%-cacao dark chocolate. When it comes to chocolate, I know well how little resistance I have when there’s more sugar in the chocolate. I wanna eat the whole damn bar! 85% is barely sweet and thus non-addictive. I can eat a small piece daily and make a bar last two weeks, getting the benefits of the cacao (antioxidants, magnesium, endorphins) without overindulging in sugar.

I decided I might as well go alcohol-free too. What the heck, right? I have become fond of some red wines and could (and did) drink a glass almost daily. After that, I may cut back to drinking wine only when dining out. Alcohol can be addictive, and apparently it’s never too late to develop a drinking problem, which I definitely don’t want.

Another good resolution is to get the first hour of my day in good order. For me, it’s brushing and flossing first thing, followed by drinking a glass of water with gelatin and apple cider vinegar, doing 10-15 minutes of yoga (vinyasa, easing into each stretch for at least 15 seconds), then meditating for 15-60 minutes, and making myself a morning cup of healthful tea, mixing matcha, puerrh, yerba mate, ginger, turmeric, nettle, reishi, etc., as needed for energy and healing. (I learned the value of this from Tim Ferriss, the supreme life hacker who wrote The 4-Hour Body and The 4-Hour Chef.)

After doing those things, I go about my day. Every day can be different in my line of work (massage therapy), depending on the number of clients and their needs, working in different locations. It’s nice to have a routine (that I hope will become mindless, like autopilot when I wake up) of healthy habits to start each day.

I am also interested in lowering my stress levels. As a massage therapist, relieving others’ stress and tension is my job. What about my own? Meditation helps, but it’s time deliberately set aside from the daily grind, sitting on a cushion and meditating. What about during the day, when I’m running errands, stuck in Austin’s notorious traffic, running late for a meeting, returning stuff, standing in line, experiencing inner and outer conflicts, hearing terrible news about what’s happening in the world that I can’t do anything about?

I decided late in 2014 to investigate the HeartMath program. I bought a device that attaches to my iPhone (the Inner Balance for iOS pulse sensor) and downloaded a free app (Inner Balance). I plug the device into my phone, attach the clip to my earlobe, and watch an expanding/contracting mandala on the screen to pace my breath. Auditory cues let me know if my heart rate variability is in the low, medium, or high range. (HRV is an indicator of coherence in the autonomic nervous system that correlates with entrainment/harmony of physiological systems. Coherence correlates to feeling positive emotions, so you could call this an attitude adjustment device. Here’s more information if you want it.)

The goal is to be in the high range of coherence as much as possible. As with games, you can set the pace, move up to higher levels, change images, get scores, and more. There are also computer-based devices available.

I quickly noticed how my thoughts affect my coherence level. If my mind wanders to news of a plane crash or nasty politics or war or a crime (I’m sure you’ve experienced this too), I move into the low range. If I bring my attention back to my heart center, I move into the high range.

I plan to do at least one session every day until I can, at will, without the device, reliably switch from stress to a positive emotion and maintain it for as long as needed.

(Not that negative emotions are totally bad. Of course when someone I love is suffering or dies, I will feel grief, anger, etc., and I have memories of difficult times in my own life. That’s life. But when it’s about something distant from me that I cannot personally do anything about, who does it serve for me to feel bad? Not me, not those I most care about. One thing I can do is to support effective organizations that are making the world a better place.)

And there you have it. These are my intentions for 2015, my expression of the “new beginnings” energy that accompanies the turn of the year. First, a two week diet clean-up. Next, an intention to create a new habit for how I spend the first hour of every day — and I’ll be done once I’m doing it regularly. Thirdly, I will use a device to increase my experience of positive emotions —and stop when I can reliably do that at will, without the device.

I will check back in later this year, and again at the end of 2015, to let you know how these intentions and practices have panned out in actuality.

Hope you have a wonderful year and that 2015 showers you with love and abundance and worthy challenges!