Rose. Thorn. Seed. Guest post by Austin Dixon, L.Ac

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At the end of every year my family spends a weekend with 2 other families to celebrate my husband’s birthday and the New Year. On New Year’s Eve, after we put the kids to bed and all the adults put on PJs, we get some refreshments and gather around the fire to discuss the highlights and lowlights of the previous year and our hopes for the coming year. This little exercise turns into hours of laughter, tears, and inspiration and we call it Rose, Thorn, Seed. It is also something we practice daily in our house and I want to share it with you.

The basic idea of daily Rose, Thorn, Seed is that we each share our Rose of the Day, the best part of the day, our Thorn of the Day, the part we did not like or enjoy, and our Seed for tomorrow, a thought or action we want to plant for the next day. Simple, right? Right. Very simple and very effective when you are looking for a way to get to know your partner better, get your kids to talk to you, or get to know yourself better. You can do Rose, Thorn, Seed by yourself with a pen and paper, mentally over a glass of wine or cup of tea, or with a partner, friend, or your whole family.

My husband and I started this when we lived in Brooklyn, before kids. We were both in school and working 2 jobs and never saw each other. We led completely different lives. I was doing acupuncture, yoga, working as a nanny and dancing, while he was working with computers, making Facebook video games and working on an Off Broadway show. I had as little insight into his world as he did mine. By checking in each day with our Rose, Thorn, Seed it sparked dialogue about things we would otherwise fail to mention about our day. We had been together since college and I started learning new things about this man. This proved to be such a helpful tool for us that we started doing it with our friends on their birthday, New Years, and daily with our kids.

Rose, Thorn, Seed is also a great exercise when you are feel like you need a change but don’t know exactly what that change is. When you aren’t feeling fulfilled with life or your job but you can’t quite pinpoint what is disappointing you. For example, if you want to figure out what kind of job would be good for you, try writing down what made you feel good that day as it relates to your work. Write down what did not make you feel good and what you would like to see happen differently tomorrow. Over a few weeks you may see a pattern to everything listed under your Rose and notice what inspires you the most as well as a pattern to your Thorn. You can use your seed to help direct you to more fulfilling days at your current job or help guide you in a search for a new one.

I hope you find this little exercise as helpful as we do. My desire for you is that you start living a life filled with lots of colorful roses, few thorns, and some new seeds.

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Benefits of Chair Yoga…Guest post by RJ Lisander

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Yoga has been shown to improve overall health, prevent and (even in some cases) reverse disease when practiced regularly as a lifestyle. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that yoga can lend its benefits to those seeking to improve mobility and flexibility, but who may be limited by balance due to injury, disease and/or age. Below are some examples of how chair yoga may help you:

1. Improved mobility

A body that is agile is typically able to withstand and sustain injuries better. Chair yoga provides a safe and effective way to explore movement and improve balance and mobility.

2. Improved Flexibility

Chair yoga is appropriate for all, but is best for those who have sustained injury which prevent or hinder movement such as reaching down to tie shoe laces or pick things up. The supported and slow movements offered in a chair yoga class help improve flexibility safely.

3. Improved proprioception

Proprioception is the skill of knowing where your body is in space, and coordinating movements accurately. This is particularly important as we age and can help prevent falls due to changes in perception and balance. For people with restless leg syndrome or conditions such as MS, it may mean having greater control over the body and its movements.

4. Improved stress, mental clarity and pain management

Chair yoga (and yoga in general) includes breath work, which can help people not only with stress management but also for coping and managing pain. Through yoga and the accompanying breath exercises the postures, you can help your body and mind to cope with the pain of an illness or condition you may suffer with.

Curious? Join me for a Chair Yoga session at InsideOut.  Contact the studio for more information!

919-361-0104

info@insideoutbodytherapies.com

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The Holidays…Guest post by Austin Dixon, L.Ac

Hey Folks,

The holiday season is here and in full swing. While all of us might not celebrate the holidays this time of the year we can’t help but be affected by them. This is when schedules get filled with social events (both wanted and unwanted), lots of money is spent, food and drink flow, and expectations are high. No matter how much you love or hate the holidays it is filled with extreme highs and lows. So how do we balance out those extremes? I have a couple thoughts….

Stop making the holidays about gifts. There are so many other beautiful ways to spend your energy. Get creative and do things that feel meaningful to you. Examples…

  • volunteer (there are tons of places looking for help…soup kitchen, public schools, tutoring, local non-profits, arts organizations)
  • have an experience instead of a gift (get together and do something!)
  • write holiday cards to folks that don’t get a lot of attention during the holidays (folks in nursing homes, overseas, jail, the hospital, etc…)
  • deliver treats (food, cards, etc)  to folks who have to work on holidays (fire stations, hospitals, police stations, grocery stores….)

Take care of yourself (and I don’t mean by spending money!).

  • go to bed early
  • eat cooked foods and avoid raw, cold foods
  • take salt baths
  • drink extra water
  • avoid sugar to the best of your ability
  • spend time outside even though it is cold
  • exercise (even 5 minutes is better than 0 minutes)
  • say no when you don’t want to do something and don’t feel guilty about it
  • spend time looking inward and reflecting on the year
  • stretch daily (set a timer to remind yourself to take stretch breaks)
  • if you have the means, schedule acupuncture, massage, or a fun class for yourself

Stop feeling guilty about what you eat. Even though I think sugar is kin to the devil, I truly believe the hateful things we say to ourselves are more damaging. It is really hard to avoid eating foods we view as “bad” over the holidays. Instead of beating ourselves up about it let’s focus on moderation (or not… go to town on that pie!) and use gratitude instead of shame. “I am going to eat this cookie that was made for me out of love.” “I am going to eat this cake in celebration of ________.” Our minds are powerful, let’s not let a cookie destroy our well being.

Do your best to stay in the moment. When the To Do List is long and the days are short it can feel overwhelming and stress gets elevated. Try to stay in the moment by making a gratitude list. You can do this with pen and paper as a daily ritual or simply stop in the moment of frustration and mentally list 5 things you are grateful for. I find that a gratitude list can also be helpful when preparing  yourself for visits with challenging family members or co-workers. Since contact is inevitable over the holidays prepare for the interaction by making a list of their positive qualities and/or ways that your life is possible and/or improved because of this person. Even if this list is short (sometimes very, very short) it can be a useful way to put yourself in a good place before entering a stressful social situation.

I hope you found this post helpful in some way and can have a few more relaxing and gratitude filled moments this holiday season. As an acupuncturist I found it important to write something that might help folks through the holiday stress, but I recognize the place of privilege I am writing from and the people of privilege I am writing to when I suggest people go to bed on time and take epsom salt baths. Not everyone can do that. However, I still believe these things are important to implement if you can. I understand I am not touching on true stresses that come from not having enough money, lack of physical or emotional support, devastating illness, or loss.

Your friendly acupuncturist,

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Holiday Health + Happiness Challenge by Mischa Decker

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It is so easy to fall into unhealthy habits during this time of year- and I am not just talking about eating too many baked goods and not enough kale.  I am talking about…stress + feeling overwhelmed + putting too much pressure on ourselves to make the perfect holiday + a complete abandonment of our exercise routines.  Time goes quickly, schedules are crazy and there is just SO MUCH on our plates (literally AND figuratively!).

While prepping for a week away from my normal routine I began to think of a few small ways to stay centered and healthy this holiday season.  Here is the challenge I set for myself.  I plan to do these FOUR things MOST days of the week.

Will you join me?

  1. Drink plenty of water. I don’t know about you, but I tend to drink more “adult beverages” this time of year than usual.  Between holiday parties and family gatherings, my wine consumption miiiiight go up.  I also tend to drink less water when I am out of my normal routine, so I am making a point to keep my H2O intake UP this year!  **Bonus: add Young Living Lemon Vitality essential oil to your water for a little extra detoxifying and added flavor!
  2. Do the Pilates abdominal series. I know I will be doing less Pilates while traveling, but it is SO easy to take 5 minutes to do the Stomach Series.  If you aren’t familiar with this series of FIVE exercises, check out the video at the end of this post.  Your abs will thank you!
  3. Take a 20 minute walk.  If we make it a priority, we can usually find 20 minutes a day to go for a walk.  Even just a short walk can help clear the mind and invigorate the body!  It is also a great kick-start for the metabolism.
  4. Two minutes of gratitude. This is actually the one that is most important to me.  I have felt incredibly overwhelmed and actually a little down recently and I have noticed a shift in my thinking.  I am usually the cheerleader…”we can do this!” “things are going to be fine!” “this too shall pass!” but recently I have become much more negative.  And I don’t like it.  I know one thing that has helped me in the past is acknowledging all of the MANY things I have for which I am grateful.  And what better time than NOW to be THANKFUL for even the small things in our lives.  Here are a few ways to do your two minutes (or more!) of gratitude:
    • Use all or part of your daily walk to think about the positive things in your life.
    • Take a drop or two of your favorite essential oil in your hands, rub them together, put them to your nose and inhale.  Breathe in the scent and say aloud or to yourself the things you are grateful for at that time. **I use Young Living’s Frankincense and a blend called Abundance most often.
    • Keep a gratitude journal.  You can use bullet points or even just jot down thoughts.  It doesn’t have to be long or perfect writing!

Comment here or on our FB or IG posts and let us know if you are up for the challenge!

Happy and Healthy Holidays!

Pilates, ALS, and the RDC Marathon…Guest Post by Andrea Lytle Peet

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Andrea Peet (pre-ALS) with her husband

When I was diagnosed with ALS in May 2014 at the age of 33, my husband and I
were confronted by the same depressing facts that everyone with ALS learns:

  • The average life expectancy is 2-5 years
  • Before death, the person will become paralyzed, unable to talk, eat, or
    swallow, and eventually lose the ability to breathe
  • There is no treatment and no cure. The only approved drug extends life
    expectancy 2-3 MONTHS (*note: A second drug was approved in 2017, but it has issues that I won’t bother going into…)

So what do you do with that? I was young, an athlete (I’d done a half Ironman 8
months earlier), and we had just bought a house in order to start a family.
I was already walking with a cane and my speech was slurred, but I thought I was still strong enough to pull off a super sprint triathlon, Ramblin’ Rose Chapel Hill. Since I could no longer balance on two wheels, we bought a recumbent trike. I asked my friends to support me by donating to ALS research and they raised $10,000! My best friend, Julie, and I came in last and ended up with a story in Endurance
magazine.

That race transformed my perspective on the disease. I realized I could inspire
people to take on challenging races as a way to raise money for ALS – but more importantly, as a way to appreciate what their bodies can do. “Team Drea” started with 30 people, but has now grown to 150+ and raised $220,000 for ALS research. As for me, I kept riding my trike…and did a half marathon…then a marathon. Then I thought, “I’m tired of waiting around for this disease to kill me,” and signed up for 12 races in 2016 (half marathons, marathons, and triathlons), each dedicated to someone with ALS who has inspired me.

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Triking

I completed that challenge, crediting my success to exercise on the trike, swimming, and the dumb luck to have a slowly progressing form of ALS.

But it wasn’t until I started working with Mischa Decker at IOBT in January 2017 that I learned I could actually get STRONGER.

What started out as 4 weeks of “I’ll give this a try,” has turned into 11 months of weekly Pilates-based PT appointments with Mischa where we work on my weak areas: core, glutes, outer thighs – and stretching places that are tight: inner thighs, calves, and feet. Top it off with bi-weekly acupuncture appointments with Austin and ooooh weeeee honey, my body feels awesome these days!! 🙂

Mischa is amazing. She is laser focused throughout our session on my positioning, which muscles should be activated, sensitive areas, and those that need attention. I know I’m in trouble when she says, “I have a crazy idea…” because that means she knows I’ve built up the strength to push just a little bit further, do just a little bit more. Which, as we all know, is where the Pilates magic happens.

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On the CoreAlign during one of her Pilates sessions at InsideOut

The results have been incredible. I walk better (still with a walker, but who cares? I’M. STILL. WALKING). While I still fall occasionally, it’s not nearly as frequent now, thanks to my stronger core muscles. And I’m actually getting faster with swimming and triking. Such positive progress is almost unheard of in ALS.

This Sunday, November 12th, I will take on my 12th race of 2017 (27th with ALS) – the inaugural RDC Marathon in Durham. This race benefits my foundation and the proceeds will go to ALS research at Duke. My world-renown* neurologist, Dr.Richard Bedlack, is studying off-label treatments: supplements, bee pollen, fecal transplants, and other crazy things people with ALS try on their own in the absence of any effective treatment in mainstream medicine.

*His wardrobe is also world-renown, see for yourself

He is also studying cases of ALS reversal – that’s right, people whose ALS have gone away. So far he’s found 34…out of 30,000 people living with ALS in the U.S. at any one time.

Not good odds, but Dr. Bedlack’s research gives me hope in the same way that sessions with Mischa do. If I can just hang on a little longer, push just a little bit further, maybe there will be a treatment. Or my body will figure out how to repair itself.

Hey, stranger things have happened – ask the 34 people with ALS reversals…or the woman in the trike doing her 27th race.

Thank you IOBT for supporting ALS research. It means the world to me and everyone else with ALS!

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Team Drea at the Ramblin’ Rose Triathlon 2017

 

 

The Energy of Fall- Guest Post by Austin Dixon, L.Ac

austindixonGuest Post by Austin Dixon, L.Ac

In Chinese Medicine the seasons play an important role in our health and well-being. Our body and mind are better when we eat seasonally appropriate food, wear seasonally appropriate clothing, and follow sleeping patterns that correspond to the rising and setting of the sun. There are certain energies or emotions that are connected with the seasons that can often explain why people feel certain ways during a particular season or seem to experience a recurring issue at the same time each year. Since the temperature is finally starting to give us a break here in North Carolina and the leaves are changing, I am going to focus on Fall.

Fall is the season that is connected to the Metal element and Lung and Large Intestine in Chinese Medicine. When the energy of Metal is strong you are able to let go of the things that no longer serve you and hold on to what does. Think about animals storing up for the winter. There is no space for unnecessary items. Fall is the perfect time to reflect on how the year has been progressing, recognize what is working for you and what isn’t, and to begin to let go of what you no longer need.

Sounds easy, right? Ha!

Letting go can feel so overwhelming and borderline impossible to many (most) people. Our new age friends might throw around the phrase “just let it go” as if this was a simple task equivalent to tossing an empty Kombucha bottle into the recycling bin at Whole Foods. Don’t let them fool you. Letting go is hard. Like, really hard. I am not one who shies away from change, but even typing about letting go has my palms sweating. So, let’s get real and talk about what this looks like for those of us who may want to hold on to our Kombucha bottle (I could totally use this for something!).

Now, I am not a therapist and can only speak to my personal experience with letting go of emotional baggage. Since everyone is different and may not identify with my personal struggles I won’t bore you with the details of my own emotional balancing. I will say that mindfulness practices go a long way. Finding the right one for you can be life changing. I also highly recommend therapy. I know some great therapists in Durham if anyone needs a recommendation.

Another technique I firmly believe helps nourish our Metal energy is cleaning out. I truly believe everyone can benefit from de-cluttering, both physically and mentally. Some folks have more clutter than others, but we all have something we can let go of. De-cluttering your home or work space is a great exercise in sorting and examining what you actually need. It can be hard to figure out what we need to let go of emotionally.  Learning to de-clutter and let go of physical things will give you more skills when it comes to doing the same with emotions and mental baggage.

When the energy of the Metal element is not on point it is hard for us to realize we have too much stuff and even harder for us to let go of any of it. So. Let’s start small.

Start with a drawer. Or a closet if you are feeling bold. Or a whole room if you are really ready to get your Metal element in good shape. No matter how much you are trying to tackle make four piles. The first three piles are easy-ish: Keep, Trash, Give Away. Pile four is a little harder. Every time we start going through old stuff we always find something that “Oh my god, I totally forgot about this and I love it so much and I will use it all the time now that I remember it.” These items get their own pile. Since the first three piles are pretty instructive when it comes to the next step (keep, trash, or give away) we will focus on pile four. It is best to keep this pile small. If these items are from a drawer they should fit into a ziplock bag. If these items are from a closet or room try to keep them limited to one box. Give yourself two months to use these items. Mark your calendar and go about your life. When your calendar lets you know that two months have passed, reflect on what you have actually used out of that box. If you have not used anything from your OMG-I-LOVE-THIS box, it is all packed up and ready to be donated. Easy-peasy. If you have used these items then you know that they are truly important to you.

I find it most helpful to do this every couple of months. Once you start cleaning out on the regular it might not be so overwhelming and you are giving your Metal energy a little tune up on the regular.

I hope this helps. Please remember that the energy of Fall is different than Summer. You are supposed to slow down, reflect, let go, sleep when you are tired (this means go to bed earlier) and eat warm, nourishing foods.

Happy Fall Everyone!

Austin Dixon is an acupuncturist at InsideOut.  Check out her full bio here and her website here. Call the studio to schedule an appointment with Austin!

Achieving Goals with Pilates…Guest post by Riki Shore

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Guest post by Riki Shore

On Sunday October 8th, IOBT client Anne-Claire Broughton will complete her first triathlon, the Ramblin’ Rose, in celebration of turning 50! A lover of challenge and a lifetime learner, Anne-Claire decided to celebrate her half-centennial by doing something active and enabling, and pushing herself to new physical frontiers.

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Ever since she can remember, Anne-Claire said her spine looked “unusual”, but she was only recently diagnosed with scoliosis. “I was always flagged for it when we got checked in school,” she remembers, “but the back pain didn’t come until after my daughter was born, and it intensified later when I had abdominal surgery.” Indeed, when she first walked into IOBT she wasn’t standing straight and tall, and she told me immediately that her back hurt “almost all the time”. And like a lot of mothers, firing the low belly muscles was nearly impossible – those muscles just didn’t seem accessible. More than anything, she came to Pilates to strengthen her deep core.

As her instructor, I build sessions that help her achieve her goals while creating space and length in her spine, pushing her to an edge without ever increasing her pain. We start every session with Footwork on the Reformer (see image below), which wakes up her feet and stabilizes her pelvis while using the deep abdominal muscles that Anne-Claire wants to strengthen. Since she’s not primarily looking to build muscle mass, we keep the spring tension low in order to facilitate smooth, continuous movement and highlight the connection between the spring tension and her Pilates scoop (what is sometimes referred to as “holding the spring with your belly”).

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If asked her favorite exercise, Anne-Claire would say Leg Circles, which she credits with helping to straighten her spine and reduce lower back pain.  We also do this exercise every session using the leg springs on the Cadillac. When we first started, I asked Anne-Claire to “stand” into a block that was pushed against the short box from the Reformer, which I had placed at the end of the Cadillac. I wanted to her to feel a ground beneath her extended leg as a stabilizing force while she circled the other leg exploring both movement and restraint. After several months together, she no longer needs the stabilizing block and can hop onto the Cadillac and go right into the exercise.

We always finish the session with some time draped over the Spine Corrector (see image below), which allows her to explore flexion, extension, side bending and rotation in a safe and supportive way. While there have been ups and downs in her triathlon training as she learns what her spine can tolerate, I can honestly say that Anne-Claire is stronger, leaner, taller and more supple than when we first met.

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Like any busy not-quite-50-year-old, she sometimes experiences stress, fatigue, muscle tightness and pain, but she remains undaunted and committed to what she calls her Body Project. “I love doing things that at first I’m afraid of or I think I can’t do. Then when I do them…that is the best feeling!” I have no doubt she’s going to be feeling that way when she crosses the finish line in Chapel Hill in a few short weeks – and I’m proud to have played a small part in her journey. Thank you, Anne-Claire, for brightening IOBT with your presence!

AC Congrats

Schedule a private session with Riki or any of our instructors:        

919-361-0104         info@insideoutbodytherapies.com

Moving through stress: Simple steps bring a sense of calm to your day… Guest post by RJ Lisander of Lotus Seed Meditations, LLC

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Not a single one of us is immune to the daily stressors in life.  We all wear many hats requiring us to move from situation to situation, decision to decision, circumstance to circumstance often without a breath in between.  Before we know it we can be flustered, moving too quickly and feeling like we are losing pace with each fleeting moment.

 

This time of year, as Summer starts to cool to Fall’s breeze we can feel especially unsettled.  Old routines are shifting to new routines and this transition of weather and routine can be especially turbulent.  Demands on our attention are heightened and time is at a premium.  We often find we have to put self-care off for another day or week.   

In these moments I try to remind myself this is all part of a cycle and these moments of stress are normal, and in some cases necessary to sustaining life, and as they pass we move back to a state of calm.  But, sometimes we stay in this heightened state and need a technique or two to help move us through them to a place of less stress and more calm. 

 

Not that the below list will solve all your problems, but the inclusion of a pause or multiple pauses throughout the day can help you find a little bit of balance between longer, larger resets. 

  1. Start the day before: Establishing and maintaining state of calm starts by taking a moment or two to organize your day the night before.  Review your calendar and do what you can to prepare for an easier start to the day. 

  1. Sleep: Try to get a full, uninterrupted night’s sleep.  When we sleep well everything else seems easier to manage. 

  1. Pack healthy and nutritious snacks to eat throughout the day:  Having small, healthy snacks will help keep your blood sugar level stable and will make it easy to keep your energy levels up (especially if you have a lastminute event that prevents or delays a meal).  Also, having snacks on hand will make it easier to resist the vending machine or drive-through. 

  1. Drink water:  Water naturally fights fatigue and increases energy.  Water flushes out toxins, relieves headaches and boosts the immune system.  So, keep a container of fresh, filtered water handy and sip it throughout the day.  The benefits on mood, hydration, and overall health are truly amazing. 

  1. Take breaks throughout the day to just slow down:  Making a cup of tea, going for a 10-minute walk outside, counting out the beads of a mala, or finding a quiet spot to close your eyes and breath with intent will each do wonders for perspective.  Sometimes all we need to do is pause long enough to breathe.  This can do wonders for calming the mind and senses. 

  1. Focus:  Find an object or objects that bring you a sense of peace and joy and have them at your desk at work or in a space you frequent throughout your day.  Gaze on them for a moment drawing your awareness toward something outside of your momentary frazzle and back into an inner state of joy.   

  1. Music:  Play soothing and happy music as you are able throughout the day.  Relaxing music has been shown to increase levels of serotonin and other positive hormones in the bloodstream providing our bodies with better mood, sleep and learning capabilities. 

  1. Scent:  Scent has been studied and proven to improve mood, cognitive capabilities and behavior.  Go ahead and dab on a touch of your favorite perfume.  Start a diffuser scenting the room with lovely essential oils that bring calm, awareness, focus, whatever it is you need at that time.  (Just be mindful of those around you and any sensitivities they may have to certain scents.). If you are in a space where a diffuser or perfume is not recommended, try dabbing a touch of essential oil on a pressure point or two.  Pressure points can include the temples, the back of the neck by the base of the skull, the neck by the jaw line, the collar bone and the wrists. 

Here’s to hoping you have a day filled with manageable stress, breath and space to be.  

Building on a minute a day…Guest post by RJ Lisander

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Last week was a bit of an overshare, but at the beginning of my attempts at a regular meditation practice it was so helpful for me to hear from those who made it look so easy. 

It takes time and practice to settle in and over time those words, to me, as they will to you, came to take on a newer more nuanced meaning.  It also took some work with different meditation techniques for me to settle in to what has now become a practice of about 60-minutes of silent meditation where I just “drop in” to my quiet mind.

After the visualization technique, which I explained last week, I experimented with a number of techniques until I found a really interesting style of meditation:  mantra meditation.

A mantra is defined as a word, a series of words, or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation.  It can be something as simple as the traditional “om,” which is heard in yoga classes worldwide, or it can be a more personal affirmation.  Your local yoga or meditation guide can direct you to a mantra that is perfectly suited to you, your needs and beliefs if this phrase is not coming to you easily

As I settled in to try mantra meditation I selected “om” because, frankly, it was the Sanskrit (though you are not limited to Sanskrit mantras) I felt the most comfortable pronouncing and repeating.

Seated comfortably on my meditation pillow I took a couple of breaths to help me settle.  I then closed my eyes and started to repeat, in a very tentative and quiet whisper, Om.  Over and over, Om, Om, Om.  Before I realized it the om was longer, extending to the length of each exhale, Ooooooommmmmmm.  I relaxed a bit.  I could feel myself slowing down. 

Then the thinking mind crept in and I began to wonder what “Om” really meant.  Until that very moment I had just taken for granted that “Om” was an opening and closing chant stated in yoga classes to help raise the collective vibration, consciousness of the room.  And, while this sacred sound of Om is that, it is so much more.  (Here is an article to help explain om in more detail.)

As I settled into a regular practice I started to experience Om at the beginning of a breath as AH, the middle of a breath as OH, and the end of a breath as MM.  YES!!!  The illusive breath in meditation!  I had finally found it!  The answer was right in front of me the whole time.  But, the experience of it was just beginning to unfold for me.

The second piece of the meditation puzzle was revealed to me in this sound and the vibration that resonated through me.  I opened my eyes, my whole body … buzzing … is really the best way to explain it.  I could feel my whole body, alive and active, though I was simply sitting and breathing.  My mind was peaceful and I felt like I had just found the key that I could use to unlock all that was me that I had not ever been able to access before.

I sat for days after this experience trying to get back to this place.  But, I failed.  I was frustrated.  And, then I remembered something one of my wonderful first meditation guides recommended and I incorporated a mala to my mantra meditation.

A mala is a strand of 108 beads plus a “guru” bead traditionally used for meditation (and prayer).  Malas can be created with different intentions and different precious and semi-precious gem stones to allow for different intentions to be recognized in a practice. 

I happened to have a sandalwood mala nearby.  (Sandalwood is believed to help enhance meditation practices, among other things).  I took the guru bead (the largest bead on the mala and is typically near the mala’s tassel) and started chanting AH-OH-MM with my breath.  With each exhale, and the beginning of the chant, I moved my fingers along the strand to the next bead.  I did this the entire length of the mala, 108 beads, and rested.  I opened my eyes and, though I didn’t feel the buzz I described earlier, I felt the same heightened sense of my own physical being.

For over a month I repeated this every day.  It became second nature to me and I was able to focus the vibrations in different parts of my body.  The sensation of the breath and the vibrations were (and remain) especially strong in my spine, but this can vary by individual.  Anytime I am feeling anxious I repeat Om silently to myself and the vibrations return and help me calm.  My breath settles … and, for me, that was the greatest gift of mantra meditation.  (I often secretly joke to myself that this meditation became the seed of my practice.) 

To try mantra meditation follow these steps: 

  • Return to your meditation practice space 

  • Find a comfortable position  

  • Take a couple of breaths to settle 

  • Chant your chosen mantra  

  • Repeat the chant until you feel the vibration move through you and either continue to chant or sit in silence to enjoy the experience of the vibration from a place of internal peace 

As a side note, malas can also be used alone to help focus the mind and to settle the nerves in times of stress.  There are many styles of counting the beads.  I simply hold the mala in my hand and count off the beads, starting with the guru, until I have moved through all 108.  Typically, by the time I get about ¾ of the way through the strand I am feeling calmer and more focused.  (It is not recommended that you do this while driving, operating heavy machinery, etc.  And, please be careful if you are using malas around small children and animals. General common sense should be your guide here to make sure you and those around you are safe from the distraction of counting, long strings and broken strands!) 

For individualized pointers or resources lists for mantras, please send requests to rjlisander@gmail.com.  Of course, you are always invited to stop by InsideOut Body Therapies for a Sunday evening yin flow and meditation class where we experiment a bit with mantra meditations.  Additionally, check the schedule for upcoming meditation workshops. 

Lotus Seed Meditations, LLC 

Finding Calm in the Moment…Guest post by RJ Lisander

RJ blog

 

Just checking in on you … how is your practice of meditation going so far?  
 

If you are anything like me, it’s probably not really going well at all.  It is hard to sit in the distraction of the mind and find peace.  Not to mention sitting and feeling the dull ache in the back and the slowly growing tingling in the left toe that eventually overtakes the whole foot in a sea of ever moving pin pricks growing in intensity.  

No, it’s not hard to meditate.  It can be near impossible.  So, how did you get through it?  

I added a focal point.

The buildup: It had been a particularly long day at work where a meeting ended with me, a natural klutz, making a turn to leave the room too quickly and spilling half-dayold, cold cream and coffee all over a pile of documents ready to be priority shipped to a marketing conference.  To say there was a less than a pleased look on the face of my boss and the immediate knowledge that the intern, who had been excited about and looking forward to a date for weeks, would miss that date to help me reprint and reorganize everything, caused me to feel less like a human and more like the slog at the bottom of slog is an understatement.

It was a bad day.  (Not my worst day, but a bad day nonetheless.)   

Knowing we had no option other than to make it work, the intern and I got the job done.  The intern even had time to make it to her date.  (In the spirit of full disclosure, she was late, but she did make it.)  I, on the other hand, went to a quiet apartment with no one home but two aging cats more interested in their evening meal than comforting me.  No friends were available to vent to so I left messages asking for return calls. Then I made a dinner for one, which I barely ate, as I was generally feeling nothing but self-pity. 

Now, here is where the real story starts:  I made my way to the sink where I started to wash dishes as I contemplated how to start my letter of resignation … you know, beat them to the firing me punch.  And, then, without thinking about it, after 6-weeks of trying to meditate without even the slightest bit of success, the feel of the warm water washing over my hands, the bubbles of dish detergent soothing my air conditioned-dried fingers, the sound of the water, a steady streamleft me feeling focused.  As I focused on the water and how it felt on my skin became aware of my shoulders relaxing.  Then just as I believe I was about to feel my breath the phone rang and instantly the moment was gone. 

didn’t answer the phone.  Instead, I rolled out my yoga mat and laid down on it –  work suit and all.  I knew no matter what happened at work the next day I would know I found a moment of peace and I was confident I would find that peace again. 

 

The takeaway: Now, I’m pretty sure that while none of you has actually had this day, you can relate to days like this.  And, it is often in these moments where we are not sure what to do, how to move forward, or how those things we don’t have control over will affect and even change our lives, that we seek outside advice.  In my case, that evening, I wanted a friend to help me sort through how to “fix” the idea that I knew everyone had of me being incompetent.  

But, in that moment of mindful meditation I experienced and realized the issue was much deeper; I move too quickly and I needed to slow down.   

The focal point: The next time I decided to meditate I pulled up a picture of a river on my laptop. This picture was from a favorite hiking spot and I just looked at the picture.  I recalled the smells, the sounds, everything I could about that spot.  And, though it would take several more meditation sessions before I found my breath, I left that session with a clearer head and a general sense of calm (and, the personal realization that I have a tendency to over-react to less-than-perfect-deliveries at work).   

Here are a few tips on how to start meditating with a focal point:  

  • Go to that place you have decided is your meditation spot.  
  • Take a moment and a few breaths and think about a place or an object that brings you joy.  Then find the picture of the place or the object. 
  • Take this picture or object and go back to your meditation spot.  
  • Then, once comfortable, take a cleansing inhale and exhale.  
  • Finally, look at your picture or object and notice every detail the texture, the shadings of color, the lightness, the density, the movement, the scent, and the feelings that those observations bring.  
  • Sit here for as long as you are able to focus on the picture or object and the observations.   
  • If your mind wonders bring your attention back to the picture or object until you have completely experienced this moment.  
  • When you are ready to exit your meditation do so with a deep and complete inhale followed by a complete exhale.  
  • Return your picture or object to its place or carry it with you as a reminder to take a moment to sit and settle. 

Be kind to yourself and keep trying!  Finding even a few moments each day for your meditation practice can help you find calm in the moment of mental chaos and live more mindfully.