The Wounds of Trauma and Their Impact on Relationships and Communication

In their book, What Happened to You?, Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce Perry, provide a chapter where they bring together an understanding of the wounds of trauma and their impact on relationships, communication between people and physical illness.  Throughout, they stress the mind-body connection and how the brain processes experiences.   Bruce’s explanations are lucid and, together with Oprah, he illuminates the ideas and concepts with stories and examples.  Oprah draws on her own traumatic upbringing and thousands of interviews with traumatised individuals of all ages; Bruce draws on his research and clinical practice, especially with traumatised children.  The book reflects decades of experience and the ongoing conversations between the authors. 

The book is incredibly rich in ideas, insights and stories and I found that I was better able to absorb its content by listening to the CD-Audio version which is narrated by the authors as an everyday conversation.  The interchange of ideas and experiences adds to the clarity of their explanations of the wounds of trauma and the elucidation of their impact in individual cases.  With the audio version of the book, Bruce also provides a series of diagrams that illustrate the conceptual framework behind the book and the shared understandings.

Understanding the wounds of trauma

Bruce contends that trauma-related symptoms are often overlooked – they are assumed to result from a functional breakdown or represent psychosomatic illness.  He maintains that the symptoms of the wounds are often “dismissed, missed and misunderstood” by doctors. He illustrates this by sharing the heart-rending story of Chiara who suffered from Diabetes and at age 16 was admitted to hospital in an unconscious state resulting from “diabetic coma”.  His explanation of how doctors tried unsuccessfully to treat her highlighted the doctors’ blindspot in relation to  the wounds of trauma.  Bruce explains how he achieved an effective diagnosis of Chiara’s condition by identifying the trigger for her traumatic response and using his understanding of neuroscience to develop a treatment protocol implemented by the doctors.

Bruce explains that different physical symptoms – such as chest pains, headaches, abdominal pain and fainting – are all potentially related to a “sensitised stress response” resulting from trauma.  When I heard him explain “fainting” as one potential impact of trauma memory, I recalled how often I used to faint in Church in my childhood – simultaneously, I was experiencing the trauma of a violent, alcoholic father suffering from PTSD as a result of war service and imprisonment in Changi.  My doctor had no explanation for these fainting spells.  However, at the time, my home environment was heavily charged with parental conflict – unfortunately, none of us understood trauma, PTSD and the full extent of the wounds and impact of trauma, including addiction.

The impact of trauma on communication and relationships

Bruce draws on the concept of “sequential processing” of the brain to explain the impact of trauma on communication and relationships.  Basically, the concept involves recognising that all sensory experience is firstly processed by the “lower brain”.  Part of this processing involves matching the new input with “the catalogues of stored memories of the past”.  The degree of matching with a traumatic experience determines whether or not a maladaptive stress response occurs.   The smart part of our brain, the Cortex, can be shut down when the perception of risk (as a result of current or prior trauma) is very high – so the “thinking brain” is drowned out by the “survival brain”.

Bruce illustrates this by sharing the story of 3 year old Joseph who witnessed the abduction of his 11 year old sister, which resulted in her murder.  At the time, Bruce was working with the FBI Child Abduction and Serial Killer Taskforce.  He discovered that the FBI officers were unable to get any useful explanation from Joseph and he was asked to work with the child to try to find out information necessary to find the perpetrator and enable a conviction.  Bruce provides a very detailed explanation of how he went about winning the boy’s trust and gaining the necessary information for conviction of the murderer.

As part of Bruce’s explanation of his process with Joseph, he discusses the impact of the “power differential” between the FBI Officers/himself as a stranger and the 3 year old traumatised child.   He explained that when you are the person with all the power, you can be unaware of it or its potential impact.  This fact has been brought home to me many times in co-facilitating the Confident People Management Program over 15 years (involving 2,000 managers in multiple programs and locations).  What we have found is that the majority managers on the program (mainly drawn from the public sector) are totally unaware of their power to shape the team culture.  At the outset of the program we say to them, “What you say, how you say it, what you do, how you do it and what you omit to do, shapes team culture hour in and hour out every day” – we add “whether you are conscious of it or not”.  

Bruce’s discussion of the impact of trauma on communication in relationships highlights the wisdom of this advice that we have been giving to managers.  He explains that the goal of communication is to achieve a “Cortex to Cortex” transmission.  However, on both sides of the communication (giver and receiver), rational thoughts are first processed through “the emotional filters of the lower brain”.  Hence, the message can be distorted in its transmission and reception.  He explains lucidly that “our facial expression, tone of voice and words are turned into neural activity by the other person’s senses” – they can trigger a traumatised response or build the relationship with staff through developing trust, mutual respect and safety.  A by-product of this approach is the development of a sense of agency in the manager themselves.   One of the participants on our program provided concrete evidence of the wounds of trauma and their impact when she explained that her current highly nervous state resulted from a manager shouting at her in front of other staff – this experience was traumatic for her, the impact being compounded by the power differential (and possibly stored memories of like, past adverse experiences).

Reflection

Many researchers and therapists talk about the wounds of trauma and their impact on relationships and communication.  However, Bruce and Oprah in What Happened to You, “join the dots” and “pull it all together” from their decades of experience and ongoing conversations and collaboration.  They enrich the meaning of the neuroscience concepts and insights with relatable stories that clearly illustrate the points they are making.

At one stage when talking about the power differential, Bruce mentioned that it may take 10 or more sessions before a client will feel safe and be prepared to “share some of their most emotionally difficult experiences” or acknowledge their contribution to those experiences.  This discussion reminded me of my experience mentoring a manager who was traumatised on a daily basis by a narcissistic Director who continuously belittled him by publicly calling out his “mistakes” in front of his staff  (sometimes the “mistakes were not his, but the Director’s).  It took me 7 coaching sessions of 90 minutes each over a few months before he admitted that he was defensive in his communication.  He said he experienced the insight as a “blow to his stomach” – an expression which showed the embodiment of his resistance resulting from the wounds of ongoing trauma and their impact on his feelings of safety while working with me (the “power differential” was at play in a major way as I had been engaged as a consultant by the Director to coach the “inefficient” manager).  I have come to realise that in this interaction, I was an external consultant with a high degree of expert, personal and referent power – I was the one that was in a position of power, what Bruce describes as “at the top of the power differential”.

There is so much that plays out in our daily interactions that we are unaware of, especially if we are in a power position.  We can grow in mindfulness and self-awareness through personal study, reflection and mindfulness practices such as meditation.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Developing Resilience through Trauma Recovery

Dr. Arielle Schwartz as the first presenter of the Rise Summit: Transforming Trauma demonstrated her wealth of experience as a clinical psychologist and deep insight into trauma recovery.  She openly shared her own early experience of traumatic events that left her dissociated and disconnected.  At the same time, Arielle provided hope for recovery as she addressed her chosen topic, Trauma and Resilience.  She drew on her clinical and consulting experiences through the Center for Resilience Informed Therapy where she provides an “integrated mind-body approach to trauma recovery”, informed by research on resilience.  Arielle’s presentation was so rich that you felt the need to listen to it again to glean more of the insights she offers from her personal and professional experience. 

Developing resilience: an integrated approach to trauma recovery

In an interview for New Snow Enterprises, Arielle explains that resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of trauma” or any adverse life events.  She also highlighted the fact that her strengths-based approach to therapy draws on, and reinforces, the research on post-traumatic growth which demonstrates that people who recover from trauma can become more of themselves, growing in confidence and capability – the opposite of the immediate effects of experiencing trauma. 

In her eclectic approach, Arielle draws on neuropsychotherapy which combines the concepts and practices of psychotherapy with the insights from neuroscience.  Not only does it acknowledge the mind-body connection but the relationship of this connection to environment, well-being and social interaction.  In a very real sense, it adopts a holistic approach to therapy.

This holistic approach is encapsulated in Arielle’s multi-faceted process of facilitating trauma recovery which includes:

  • Exploring family history: this involves identifying adverse childhood experiences, the passing on of intergenerational trauma and the resources and strengths gained through family interactions.  Arielle contends that identifying these elements of the “family legacy” underpins resilience.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – Arielle is a qualified practitioner in the use of this therapy and provides a case study on her website to illustrate successful use of this approach in the case of a person traumatised by date rape. The approach involves lateral eye movement that engages both sides of the brain in reprocessing a traumatic event and identifying the links to present-day reactions to triggering events.  The process requires skilful manipulation of re-exposure to traumatic events in short bursts that enable the traumatised person to manage their emotions. It also builds associations with positive adaptive techniques that the individual uses to manage stressors in daily life.  The net result is to reduce the impact of triggers, widen the window of tolerance, and build emotional resilience.
  • Somatic psychology – exploring the mind, body and behaviour through body awareness (in contrast to thinking-focused “talk therapies”).  Arielle provides a detailed description of somatic therapy that she employs in helping her clients recover from trauma.  She explains among other things how somatic therapy enables grounding, builds awareness of bodily sensations, helps to establish boundaries and to engage the innate calming and healing capacities of the body, especially through breath control.  She explains that the process of oscillating between feeling distress in the body and feeling calmness and safety is in line with somatic experiencing developed by Peter Levine.
  • Mind-body therapies – these include mindfulness practices and therapeutic yoga.  Arielle details a process she describes as Mind-Body Therapies for Vagal Nerves Disorders and explains how the vagal nerve impacts our sleep, digestion and level of calmness in our body.  She contends that these mind-body therapies can reduce inflammation and other physical illnesses and help with a range of disorders including depression and anxiety.  Arielle explains too that these therapies can involve a range of mindfulness practices incorporating movement (such as yoga and Tai Chi) as well as those involving stillness (such as relaxation and seated meditation).  In her website explanation of mind-body therapies, she offers a 4-part mindfulness practice designed to “recover from vagus nerve disorders”.  Arielle also provides a free e-book, Embodiment Strategies for Trauma Recovery, Emotional Health, and Physical Vitality, to anyone who subscribes to her email newsletters. This yogic approach to enhancing wellness is also available as a bonus gift for people participating in the Rise Summit: Transforming Traumathrough the upgrade option.

The six Rs of neuropsychotherapy

During her presentation, Arielle described the 6 Rs of neuropsychotherapy embodied in her integrated approach to trauma recovery:

  • Relationship – drawing on the concept of our being “wired for connection”, she reinforces the power of relationships in healing, including different forms of social support such as a therapist.
  • Resourcing – revisiting positive states (such as calmness and sense of safety) and savouring moments of positivity, satisfaction and happiness.
  • Repatterning – this involves establishing new patterns of movement so that established patterns (such as freezing in the face of perceived threat, e.g. someone touching you) are replaced by constructive responses, rather than triggered debilitating responses.
  • Reprocessing – especially through the EMDR process described above. Arielle reinforces the power of this gentle, managed reprocessing of trauma as a way to train memory and build resilience in the face of triggers.
  • Reflection – enables meaning making in relation to past events and habituated reactions to sights, sounds, smells, touch, taste or catalysing events. Mindfulness practices often involve reflection designed to facilitate this meaning making and emotional regulation.
  • Resilience – developing a sense of freedom, understanding personal stimuli and behavioural response patterns, becoming more integrated and coherent and broadening adaptive capacities.

The six pillars of resilience

On her website, Arielle lists the six pillars of resilience that she has drawn from research:

  • Growth Mindset
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Community Connections
  • Self-Expression
  • Embodiment
  • Choice and Control

 She suggests that we can develop these by undertaking practices that “support you physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually.” In the discussion with the Rise Summit creator and host, Nunaisi Ma, they identified practices to achieve this goal of self-support such as Tai Chi, yoga, singing (a favourite activity of Arielle), walking, meditation, mantra meditation, tapping, breathing exercises, body scan, touching (including self-touch), massage, dance and sighing.  Nunaisi elaborates on embodied healing practices in her book, Rise: Transform Trauma into Sovereign Power, Soulful Purpose, and Sacred Purpose.

Reflection

Arielle contends that one of the main barriers to post-trauma growth is fear of the discomfort of dealing with the reality of the pain and suffering resulting from the experience of trauma. Often people attempt to numb the pain through emotional eating or addiction to drugs or alcohol.  Forced solutions do not work because they take away agency (sense of control) from the individual involved.  Arielle’s approach is consistent with the core tenet expressed by the GROW podcast series that “You alone can do it, but you can’t do it alone”.

Her multi-model approach also aligns with the approach adopted by trauma recovery expert, Bessel van der Kolk, who is the author of The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma.   Bessel too encourages the use of controlled breathing, movement modalities, mindfulness practices, singing and chanting.

Arielle offers numerous resources through her blog and through her book, The Post-Traumatic Growth Guidebook : Practical Mind-Body Tools to Heal Trauma, Foster Resilience and Awaken Your Potential.  

As we grow in mindfulness through somatic meditation, mantra meditations, Tai Chi or Yoga, we can gain the courage and energy to seek the necessary support for post-trauma recovery.  Sometimes, this may only involve building social relationships with people who provide “unconditional positive regard”; at other times, therapy may be needed to supplement these relationships.   

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Image by Stephanie Ghesquier from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

The Inner Challenge in Aging

The interviewees involved in the Radically Reframing Aging Summit highlighted the inner challenge involved in aging and the need to mind your brain.  Emily Arnhalt, clinical psychologist, focused on mental health and emotional fitness and encouraged the use of “emotional pushups”.  Uma Naidoo, Psychiatrist and specialist in nutrition, highlighted how food affects our mental health and cognition.  Uma is the author of This is Your Brain on Food: An Indispensible Guide to the Surprising Foods That Fight Depression, Anxiety, Ptsd, Ocd, Adhd, and More.

In her Summit interview, Goldie Hawn demonstrated the passion for creativity and the enthusiasm for life that has permeated the comments of all contributors during the Summit.  Like Tina Turner, Goldie has found mindfulness practices to be a way to overcome her difficulties and mental challenges as she negotiated her life transitions (including aging) and sought purpose in her life. Goldie has moved beyond her acting career and become an author, director, producer and a dedicated advocate for mindfulness for children.  I have previously written about Goldie’s work in creating MindUP – a developmental program for children built on a solid research foundation incorporating neuroscience, mindfulness, positive psychology and social emotional learning.

In his Summit interview, Deepak Chopra, author of more than 90 books including Grow Younger, Live Longer, reiterated the importance of looking after your brain as you age.  He suggested that one of the major challenges in aging is to overcome “the hypnosis of social conditioning” which prevents us from realising our potential and living the life we truly desire.  Deepak has established The Longevity Experiment through his Chopra Foundation.

Two very stimulating interviewees were Dr. Martha Beck and Jim Kwik who highlighted the role of play and creativity in developing, sustaining and enriching the mind (at any age).  Martha was described by the host, Maria Shriver, as the most creative person she knows.  She is the author of The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self and provides practical steps and exercises to achieve this goal.  In the Summit interview, Martha provided ideas and processes for “reverse aging” and demonstrated the energy and positive mindset that comes from viewing aging with anticipation and readiness to explore new boundaries.  She offers a free, pre-recorded Masterclass on The Five Paths to Your Purpose.

During his Summit interview, Jim Kwik was incredibly enlightening and engaging as his #1 training podcast, Kwik Brain, with 728,000 subscribers, attests.  His articulate and incisive comments displayed his passion for brain development and ongoing brain health throughout life.  Jim is the founder of Kwik Learning which specialises in accelerated reading and learning and enhancing memory and brain performance.  He is the author of Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster and Unlock Your Exceptional Life.

Reflection

There is a lot written about diet and exercise for a healthy body as we age.  Little attention is given to our mind and what we need to do to sustain and develop our mental capacities. The interviewees in this segment of the Summit really brought the mind into focus as a primary area impacting our quality of life as we age.  There is a strong emphasis on the mind-body connection and a constant encouragement to engage in some form of creativity and/or play every day. 

Engaging in mindfulness practices is one way to care for our mind as we age.  As we grow in mindfulness through processes such as Tai Chi, mantra meditations, chanting, reflecting or meditating, we can enhance our attention, develop our brain physically, heighten our capacity for introspection and abstract thought, and gain greater access to our creativity.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Mindfulness Meditation for Anxiety

Diana Winston introduced the use of mindfulness meditation to reduce anxiety in a recent guided meditation podcast through the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center (MARC), UCLA.  The catalyst for the meditation was the anxiety she experienced listening to the news one morning before undertaking her daily  meditation.  She explained that she normally began her day meditating before anything else.  On the occasion she described, Diana started the day with listening to the news – a departure from her normal routine.  Starting the day with meditation is often recommended by mindfulness experts as a way to set your intentions for the day and strengthen your capacity to manage the challenges that will inevitably occur in the day ahead.  

Diana found the news disturbing and she found herself very anxious – an anxiety that she experienced physically as well as emotionally and intellectually.  In these situations when we experience news that is traumatic, upsetting or triggering, our minds tend to move to the worst possible scenario…”What if..”, ‘How will they cope?”  Diana decided to turn to mindfulness meditation as a way to manage her anxiety and disturbed mind.

Guided mindfulness meditation for anxiety

Diana’s approach to the guided meditation followed a number of steps:

  • Grounding – starting with a couple of deep breaths, you can begin to release some of the bodily tension through your out-breath.  Next, adopt a comfortable posture wherever you are undertaking the meditation – on a chair, lying on the ground, sitting on the floor or lying on a bed.  The central focus of the meditation is to pay attention to the sensation of solidity provided by the ground – you can access this sensation by focusing on your feet on the floor, your body on the ground, or the bed or chair on the floor which, in turn, is linked to the earth via the foundations of your house/building.  It is important to use whatever imagery or bodily sensation is useful to enable you to feel “solid” and grounded.  This is your return point throughout the meditation.
  • Body scan – begin a non-specific body scan by exploring wherever there is tension in your body.  When you locate an area or point that is tense, you can bring your attention to this point and consciously breathe out to releases this tension (you may need to do this a couple of times, if you are particularly uptight).
  • Choosing an anchor – one of the issues with anxiety is a racing mind, so it is important to have an anchor to constantly bring your mind back to your desired focus.  There are many choices for an anchor – your breath, the sounds in your room or externally, your hands resting easily on your lap.  However, it is important to choose something that does not itself trigger further anxiety, stress or trauma.  Diana suggests that you can always use the grounding sensation itself or focus on an object (e.g. a painting or a tree) which itself can lock in your attention.
  • Exploring bodily manifestations of anxiety – to achieve equanimity you have to be able to face your anxiety and the bodily manifestations that it generates, but this can be done gradually.  You may want to start with a small source of anxiety in the first place as Diana suggests.  Alternatively, you may find it important to focus on the anxiety that is really troubling you the most, so you can create a sense of ease as you go about your day.  Whatever anxiety-generating event/incident you choose, it is important to feel how it is experienced in your body.  Your mind-body connection means that feelings find expression in your body, whether experienced as good or bad.  The task here is to tap into how you are experiencing your anxiety or disturbed feeling in your body – it could be tightness in your neck or arms, soreness in your shoulders or legs, a queasy stomach, tightness in your forehead or any other bodily sensation or combination of sensations. The important thing is to get in touch with a bodily sensation at this stage and focus on it so that you can work towards its release.
  • Revisiting your groundedness – Diana advises you to take the previous step progressively and iteratively.  So you might start with a particular sensation and experience it fully and then return to your sense of groundedness, so the anxious sensation does not throw you off-balance.  By sensing, releasing, re-grounding, you can progressively cleanse your body of the tension – this, in turn, will help to reduce your anxiety-provoking thoughts and associated emotions.  The intensity of your anxiety will affect how long or how often you need to employ this meditation.  Small steps can have large effects with persistence.
  • Loving-kindness to yourself – in all this, it is important to realise that we all experience anxiety at different times and events in our lives. It is vital to be kind to yourself and not berate yourself for your assumed “weakness”, “over-sensitivity” or “softness”.  It is human to feel fear and to experience uncertainty, especially in today’s world of the pandemic and racial, national and international conflicts.  Part of caring for yourself in the middle of your anxiety is to tell yourself that it is okay to feel anxious, the feelings will pass and external events will change; and to acknowledge that there are many things that you do not have control over.
  • Loving-kindness towards others – this involves extending kind and empathetic thoughts to others who are experiencing anxiety or are the subject of your worry and concern.  There may be people who are experiencing local conflicts or threatening situations that you are anxious about.  Accepting that you cannot control the situation is a starting point and then offering them kindness in your thoughts may be all you can possibly do.  If you can take compassionate action, then, this will help them and yourself.

Reflection

The MARC meditation podcasts are provided on the UCLA website and via an app, and are offered to enable us to “develop self-awareness, emotional regulation and increased well-being”.  Diana makes the point that mindfulness meditation on anxiety equips us to deal with life’s difficulties and challenging emotions.  Persistent practice can deepen our resolve, strengthen our connectedness and achieve better integration of our mind and body.  As we grow in mindfulness, we will be able to choose wise actions, overcome habituated responses and achieve equanimity and ease.

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Image by Aneta Rog from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Body Scan Meditation – Being Present to Yourself

Gloria Kamler, stress-reduction expert and meditation teacher, provides a body scan meditation as one of the many UCLA weekly meditation podcasts.  Gloria has been a meditation practitioner for more than 30 years and talks enthusiastically about the many benefits of mindfulness meditation.  In the introduction to this guided meditation, she maintains that a body scan meditation can help us slow down, wake up to life and gain clarity about our purpose.  She suggests that instead of floating like a balloon on the winds of life, we can choose how we want to live and be able to “show up for your life”.

Gloria argues that focusing on the body via a scan helps you to develop “moment by moment awareness” that can lead to equanimity.  She maintains that our minds can lead us astray and delude us, while our body “always speaks the truth” if only we tap into it and pay attention to what we are sensing.  Through a body scan, we can access a different part of our brain, develop self-caring and caring for others and build emotional regulation.  

Body scan meditation

In her guided body scan meditation Gloria helps us to work progressively from our head to our feet dwelling on different parts of the body as we scan for tension, e.g. tightness in our neck, pain in our back, a tight furrowed brow, aching ankles or soreness in our knees.  Recognising these sensations puts us in touch with our own bodies – it makes us present to ourselves and grounds us in the present moment as we experience it.  Progressive releasing of tension as we bring our attention to different parts of our body, can create a sense of calmness and control.  It can lift our spirits and help us to be ready for the day’s challenges and opportunities.

Awareness of positive sensations as we undertake the body scan can heighten our mood, develop confidence to move forward and strengthen our resolve.  We could feel the firmness and solidity of our feet on the ground, energetic tingling in our fingers and arms and a calmness in our breathing – all of which portend and support our ability to surf the waves of life and make a real contribution to the lives of others, whether that is a simple smile, a random act of kindness, or compassionate action.   In caring for ourselves through our body scan, we can be open to caring about, and caring for, others.

We can begin to realise that everyone is at some time experiencing some form of pain – mental and/or physical.  We can feel connected to others just as we sense the deep interconnectedness of the parts of our body.  The process of the body scan, like that of Tai Chi, helps us to appreciate the mind-body connection – if we are not at one with our body, we can be “all at sea” with our thoughts and emotions.

Reflection

A body scan meditation can really help us if our mind is racing or we are distracted by anxious thoughts.  Becoming grounded in our body is the fastest route to being grounded in the present because our body is always present to us at every moment of every day – we just have to tune into it.  As we grow in mindfulness through body scan meditations, we can access our capacity for conscious choice, emotional regulation and equanimity.  We can approach life’s challenges with calmness, insight and openness to what is.

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Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

A Meditation for Situational Anxiety

The meditation described here is one of many podcasts provided by the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), UCLA.  The presenter is Diana Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education at MARC and author of The Little Book of Being: Practices and Guidance for Uncovering Your Natural Awareness.  In the book, Diana explains the nature of natural awareness and how to develop it.

Diana is the main presenter of the MARC meditation podcasts that cover a wide range of topics designed to build self-awareness, increase self-regulation, and enhance overall well-being.  Diana describes the weekly meditation sessions as an oasis in the midst of our turbulent and challenging times.  In the meditation podcast described in this blog post Diana focuses on the topic, Are You Anxious?  The meditation is particularly powerful for people dealing with situational anxiety, e.g., awaiting a medical diagnosis or preparing for a job interview.  

The meditation may not work for some people who are experiencing a continuous state of non-specific anxiety.  The work of Johann Hari, author of Lost Connections, may be useful here.  Also , people who have experienced childhood trauma may find the trauma-sensitive mindfulness approaches more in keeping with their present experience.

The mind-body connection in anxiety

When we experience the emotion of anxiety, we become conscious of the close mind-body connection involved.  Anxiety can be felt in the body in many ways, e.g., “butterflies in the stomach”, aches and pains in arms and/or legs, tightness in the chest or constriction or soreness of the throat.  Simultaneously, we will be experiencing negative thoughts such as imagining the worst possible scenario, questioning our ability to cope, recalling previous “failures” or envisaging a poor outcome.  The combination of thoughts and uncomfortable bodily sensations creates a vicious cycle with one reinforcing the other.

What compounds the difficulty of dealing with anxiety is that it has a bad name – it is considered a bad emotion.  Karla McLaren, author of Embracing Anxiety, suggests that anxiety is a necessary emotion within which lies the wisdom to identify and support constructive action to deal with our challenges, tasks, and expectations. She offers ways to access the “genius of anxiety” to channel the inherent energy towards constructive action (instead of repression or suppression of the feeling).

A guided meditation for situational anxiety

Diana’s podcast begins with a grounding exercise covering breath, bodily sensations, and sounds.  Grounding is particularly relevant to dealing with anxiety because, as Johann points out, this emotion often arises from a sense of disconnection.   In the meditation, Diana strongly encourages us to feel the support of the chair, the earth, and our immediate environment – an approach designed to alleviate feeling unsupported in facing the challenges of life and to reinforce a sense of connectedness.

The next phase of the meditation focuses on our uncomfortable bodily sensations – getting in touch with, and reconnecting to, our bodies. It involves noticing how our body is responding to the emotion of anxiety and progressively releasing any tension, tightness, or constriction through a proactive body scan.

Moving beyond bodily sensations, Diana encourages us to address our negative thoughts by drawing on our inner wisdom to ask a series of challenging questions – what Karla calls “conscious questioning”.  This approach taps into previous achievements, challenges unfounded assumptions and catastrophe thinking and seeks to identify one or more constructive steps that can be taken to reduce anxiety and progress the task, project, or other challenging endeavour.

Diana rounds off her guided meditation on situational anxiety by encouraging us to engage in a loving kindness meditation – extending kindness to ourselves and others, particularly to those who are also experiencing anxiety.

Reflection

I recently used this guided meditation to help me deal with a challenging situation.  I found the body scan enlightening in the sense of unearthing and dealing with the uncomfortable bodily sensations associated with my anxiety.  The “conscious questioning” was also very constructive.  As we grow in mindfulness through guided meditations, whether face-to-face or via a podcast, we can increase our self-awareness (especially in relation to how our body and mind work in unison), develop our self-regulation by reducing reactivity and increase our sense of well-being and the associated ease.

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Image by Lars Eriksson from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Resonance and the Art of Leveraging Energy through Meditation

Yesterday Ginny Whitelaw conducted a global Zoom launch for her new book, Resonate: Zen and the Way of Making a Difference.  Ginny contends that resonance is the “lynchpin” between our inner and outer world, it connects inner energy with outer energy.  She explained that energy is everywhere, everything is in a state of vibration.  If we can achieve integration of mind and body by developing awareness through meditation, we are capable of vibrating with many energies that enable us to create change in our world – personal, inter-personal and social change.

Resonance as alignment and amplification

Resonance involves “vibrating with” – achieving alignment with, and amplification of, energy.  Ginny pointed out that resonance is a “fact” – there are measurable, characteristic ways in which vibration occurs when energies come together.  For example, she provided an experiential exercise where participants in the Zoom meeting could experience in their body, the vibrations from the music of a large church organ.  When the notes were deep, people felt the vibrations in the lower part of their bodies, e.g. in their feet; in contrast, when the notes were high, the vibration was felt higher in the body.  She reinforced this experience with a final exercise that involved making sounds such as “oh”, “om” and “ng”, while progressively experiencing the different sounds in the relevant Chakra level of the body, e.g. the deep “oh” sound aligned with the “root chakra”, while the “ng” sound was experienced in the “crown chakra”.

Ginny explained that energy vibrations and rhythms surround us in daily life.  The vibrations of sound waves, the movement of a swing, and the differential impact of small and big waves are some of the ways that we can perceive energy and resonance in action.   According to Ginny, “energy creates form” and “form shapes energy”, e.g. when the flow of water down a rockface gouges out a clear channel for the water to follow over time.  So too, energy perceived through the senses can change our neurons, changing our form within us and shaping our energy output.

Leveraging energy through mindful meditation

Ginny pointed out that through breath meditation, employing deep breathing, we can slow our thoughts and calm our body.  The integration of the mind-body connection through different forms of meditation and other mindfulness practices, enables us to develop calm energy which impacts those around us.  She views meditation as improving our own resonant instrument, taming the dissipated energy of the ego, fears, and impulses.  Meditation heightens our sensitivity and enables us to overcome habituated responses.  Our life experiences influence our perceptions and emotions as we become sensitised to negative triggers that evoke difficult emotions that serve to misdirect our focus and energy.  Meditation helps us to tame the energy of difficult emotions, and to understand their message and wisdom so that we can redirect their energy and take appropriate action.

During the online launch, Ginny provided a three-step meditation process designed to change the “inner dialogue” and release energy (as if we are overcoming a “cramp” or energy blockage):

  1. Breathe deeply and lengthen your exhale beyond that of the inhale.
  2. Envisage someone in your group or team experiencing difficulty and direct kind thoughts and positive energy towards them.
  3. Focus on something in the room that you love to look at or experience and then “tune into” why you like that particular object.  Progressively let your heart expand to take in your whole room or external environment.

Ginny maintains that as our inner reality changes through meditation, our outer experience changes. We become more open to what is around us and better able to use our gifts to help others – achieving greater flow in our lives through alignment with our life purpose.   We can more readily tune into the wavelength of others and respond more appropriately and creatively.  Our inner energy flow and mind-body alignment shape the way we interact with the world and bring about personal, interpersonal, and social change.

Ginny highlights the need for leaders to develop leadership agility by adopting different energy patterns.  She maintains that leadership is about resonance, a skill developed by deep listening to others.   Listening, in turn, requires being in the moment, fully present, and consciously attuned to the other person and the source and direction of their energy.  This capacity for attunement is developed through meditation and mindfulness practices. 

Reflection

The challenge for us is to achieve what Ginny calls “the foundational flip” – the capacity to  overcome self-absorption and direct our energy outwards for the good of others.  As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and other mindfulness practices, we can become more attuned to the energy that surrounds us, more flexible and adaptable in leading others and more focused and energised to achieve our life purpose and make a positive difference in the lives of others.

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Image by Okan Caliskan from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Tapping into Our Positive Energy Force

In a recent presentation as part of the You Can Heal Your Life Summit, Rajshree Patel emphasised that our breath is our life force.   She elaborates on this idea extensively in her book, The Power of Vital Force: Fuel Your Energy, Purpose and Performance with Ancient Secrets of Breath and Meditation.  She maintains that many people achieve “success”, but their harmful emotional life and/or turbulent relationships drain their energy and ensure that they are not happy.  Rajshree argues that they have not learnt to master their inner landscape – their thoughts, emotions and feelings.  For her, breathing is the gateway to life’s balance, energy and happiness.

In an interview recorded in a Moonshots Podcast, Rajshree argued that true self-awareness arises through our vital life force, the breath.  She stated that meditation is “the ability to perceive what is going on in your inner world as it is”.  For her, conscious breathing initiates meditation and enables you to achieve a level of perception of your inner landscape that gives you access to your innate power, potential and energy. Meditation through conscious breathing precipitates calmness, clarity and tranquillity – realised through evenness of our breath.  Rajshree pointed out that there is a proven relationship between how we breathe and our thoughts and emotions.  For example, research has demonstrated that a specific pattern of breathing occurs when people are shown photos depicting different emotions such as anger and fear.  The breathing pattern changes with each different emotion displayed.

Rajshree offers three ways to access our breath and suggests that these are pathways to meditation appropriate to different situations.  The three patterns she identifies are deep breathing, deep calm breathing and reset breathing.

Deep breathing

Conscious breathing brings us into the present moment, away from anxiety and fear about the future and from anger and resentment about the past.  Deep breathing is a mindfulness practice that builds our capacity to be in the present moment and tap into our internal power and energy source at any time during the day.  We might adopt this practice before we start our working day, after conducting a workshop or before beginning a meeting.  Rajshree reminds us that the in-breath draws in energy and vitality while the out-breath releases toxins and pent-up feelings.

The process of deep breathing involves placing your hand on your abdomen and taking a deep breath in, pushing your abdomen out.  Rajshree explains that often we take a shallow breath, drawing our abdomen in and trying to fill our chest with our breath.  She maintains that it is really important in deep breathing to expand the abdomen because this enables you to release “emotional blockages” that are held within this part of the body.  The in-breath should be taken as long as possible with a slow, controlled out-breath.  Having your hand on your abdomen helps you to be conscious of expanding your abdomen, rather than contracting it – of releasing emotion, not trapping it within you.  Rajshree suggests that you take 10 deep breaths at least three times a day – as practice builds awareness and competence.

Deep calm breathing

This form of breathing is designed to clear difficult emotions that may arise after a day’s work where you experience deadlines, noise, interruptions, unrealistic expectations, information overload and the resultant stress and overwhelm.  In a sense, deep calm breathing is a form of “letting go”.  If we don’t do this then we can become locked in a pattern of negative thoughts and emotions that finds expression in traffic rage, conflict with our partner or failure to listen empathetically to our children.  Little annoyances can catalyse a disproportionate, angry response.

The process of deep calm breathing involves deep abdomen breathing once again but this time you take in a deep breath and when you think you can’t breathe in anymore, you draw in more breath and then release the breath after a brief holding of the breath.  Rajshree maintains that this form of breathing breaks the link between mind, body and stress – releasing difficult emotions before they find expression in negative patterns of behaviour towards others.  She suggests that this mindfulness practice should be employed at the end of each working day before you leave the office or when you finish your workday when working from home. Doing 10 deep calm breaths at the end of the working day prevents negative emotions from taking hold and enables you to achieve a relative level of calm to face the rest of your day.

Reset breathing

This mindfulness practice is called “reset breathing” because the idea is to change your breathing from the form of breathing you take on after an experience of considerable agitation, e.g. conflict with your spouse, partner, boss or colleague; difficulty in getting to work on time; a spiteful interaction with a stranger or any other activity that raises your ire or upsets you unduly.  If we let this agitation fester, it drains our energy and frustrates our positive intentions.   As Rajshree points out, “our quality of life is directly related to our minds” and if we waste energy reliving the past and being resentful about our interactions, we destroy our chance of being happy, vibrant and energetic.

The process of reset breathing involves firstly recapturing the experience that caused you agitation.  Rajshree suggests that you close your eyes and try to envisage as fully as possible what you experienced at the time – your thoughts, actions, emotions and bodily sensations, as well as your perceptions of other people and your immediate environment.  After you have fully captured the precipitating experience, you take in a deep breath through your mouth followed by a sudden exhale accompanied by sounding “hmmm”!  Rajshree maintains that the vibration caused by this explosive sound is felt effectively between the eyes and positively activates the pituitary gland

Reflection

Our breathing occurs unconsciously moment by moment all day, every day that we are alive.  It is readily accessible wherever we are.  Breath is our life force and constant source of energy.  Conscious breathing, in whatever form it takes, enables us to access this life force and release difficult emotions and toxins in our physical system.  Our mind-body connection is clearly manifested through our breathing patterns.  As we grow in mindfulness through mindful breathing practices, reflection and other forms of meditation, we can achieve a profound level of self-awareness and an enhanced level of self-regulation and tap into our life purpose and creative energy.  Conscious breathing provides release from negative emotions and positively impacts the human body’s “energy system”. 

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Image by enriquelopezgarre from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.