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.

Since then I’ve divorced my meditation practice from any religion. I’ve occasionally slacked off for weeks at a time, and I’ve meditated irregularly and half-heartedly. I have not worked with another teacher.

Instead, I have groped my untutored way around stillness and silence, acutely aware of my vata monkey-mind, wondering if I have a touch of ADHD (other family members do), and occasionally stumbling upon states of pervasive bliss, being literally held by a higher power, being breathed, feeling currents moving in and through me, and experiencing brief moments of exquisite clarity. All with no idea how to return to any of those states. The birds ate my bread crumbs!

In August 2016, I discovered the Insight Timer app (iOS) for recording my meditation practice sessions, and my desire to meditate every day grew. As of today, I’ve meditated 188 consecutive days since September 26. You gotta love an app that gives you a gold star for meditating 10 days in a row.

In January, I had a breakthrough in a body/energy work practice, Biodynamics, that I’ve been studying for four years now that is mostly perception, and this also renewed my commitment to meditation, especially for doing longer sits of an hour when my schedule allows.

Feeling more committed, I signed up for a 10-day vipassana retreat in August, which is a good month to be away from work in an air-conditioned room, meditating my ass off with a bunch of Hindus and some other English-speaking people. Vipassana has been on my bucket list for years, and it’s finally going to happen.

So my love for meditation has been rekindled. Most mornings I wake up and can’t wait to meditate.

Out of this scenario, I feel like I have some things to say that might be helpful to new meditators and stalled meditators and meditators looking for inspiration. Because meditation is such a nonverbal realm, I’d like to make an attempt to put some words to it and make some suggestions that you can take or leave as you please.

We can’t notice everything at the same time. (Or at least not until/unless we are way advanced, as far as I know now.) This bird calling draws our attention, there’s the hum of the refrigerator, the faint smell of honeysuckle, the sensations of my feet being hot, the impulse to take my shoes and socks off. Pause. A chakra opens, a stuck place in my body makes itself known, oh should I have said that?, I can taste the cheese I ate earlier, that was a really satisfying breath, what’s for dinner?

We filter information about our experience in bits, and at the beginning of a session, it often changes quickly, like a slideshow on fast-forward. It would be overwhelming to experience all that simultaneously, not to mention hard to appreciate.

We can use our natural filtering capability to develop skills in orienting, which means setting a direction for what you intend to notice. It helps slow the monkey-mind slideshow down considerably.

Two ways of orienting that you may come to value are orienting toward stillness and orienting toward motion.

In orienting to stillness, notice the pauses between your inhalations and exhalations, and between your exhalations and inhalations. Notice the gaps between your thoughts. Notice your mind at rest. Nothing happening, nothing to see here, just…emptiness.

Ironically, in stillness, you may notice all kinds of subtler experiences, such as energy dancing across your face or even the beginning of a thought.

The other polarity is orienting to motion, such as your breath, which you’ve tuned into many times. Notice more about it. What moves in your body when you inhale and when you exhale? Do you feel a sense of with your inhalations? Do your exhalations help you y? Put your experiences into your own words if you can.

What about your heart, beating in your chest? Can you feel it pumping away, keeping you alive? You have pulses located all over your body. Can you sense them?

There’s a more subtle, slower rhythm, the rhythm of cerebrospinal fluid expanding your cranial bones ever so slightly and then receding, which you might even feel all the way down your spine. And there are even more subtle rhythms that are perceptible.

Stillness and motion are not opposites. There’s a bit of stillness in motion, and a bit of motion in stillness. Developing your perceptions of motion augments your perceptions of stillness, and vice versa.

Notice what you notice each time you meditate, and know that your next session will offer you new gifts of perception. Play with it!

I hope these suggestions inspire you to experience more deeply the human being that you are. May you have breakthroughs!

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!

Note to self: remember this next time I get sick of myself

There’s nothing like it.

My mind can be going 1,000 miles per hour, worrying life like a dog worries a bone, oh so busy “figuring things out.” Making Plans A and B, sometimes C and D. Analyzing. Focusing on what is wrong: I should be making more money, should spend more time Continue reading

He said, “Why aren’t you a craniosacral therapist?”

Years before I went to massage school, I received monthly craniosacral therapy sessions from Nina Davis for 2-3 years. I didn’t know what craniosacral therapy was, exactly, but I figured that between trauma, head injuries, sacrum injuries, and scoliosis in my spine, that any kind of bodywork that focused on the cranium, sacrum, and points in between was going to be good for me. I asked who was good. Nina was recommended.

And it was good for me! Continue reading

Body care tools make great gifts!

Need ideas for holiday gifts to give or request? Body care tools keep on giving.

The Well: bodymindheartspirit

When you are considering gifts to give during the holiday season (or for birthdays or special occasions year-round), here are some recommendations from a professional bodyworker. All of these relax, relieve stress, release tension, and enhance well-being. Who doesn’t want that?

First of all, please consider giving your loved ones gift certificates for massage. There are many modalities available ranging from Swedish to Ashiatsu to craniosacral to hot stones and more. This is a great way to show love — by surprising your loved one with a health-giving, rejuvenating, relaxing massage.

Your loved one will love you for it, and you’ll enjoy their relaxed, post-massage company even more!

Plus, supporting a private practitioner keeps the money in the local economy, so you’re being generous twice.

Here are my recommendations for tools that bring relief between massages:

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The Risky Business of Building Safe Communities

Katie Ford, class facilitator for Truth Be Told (a nonprofit working with incarcerated women that I’ve long supported), describes some serious truth-telling.

Truth Be Told

Katie Ford is a Talk to Me and Discovery class facilitator at the GEO Lockhart prison. She also emcees the orientation and graduations each semester. For two years, she served as the Truth Be Told program coordinator at Lockhart. The following piece is something she put together for a public reading at The Continental Gallery in Austin, where a group of musicians, poets and writers were invited to share original work on a common theme. The evening’s theme was “Safety.”

Think about the last time you sat down with a good friend, or a few good friends, and had one of those conversations in which you feel genuinely inspired by what the others are saying — and when you have something to say, you feel heard, understood — or at least accepted.

That feeling of really being connected with others.

And perhaps that conversation leaves you in awe — of…

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