Categories
Adolescence Mental Health Mindfulness Recovery

Can Contemplative Practices Foster Recovery?

In addition to our therapeutic programs, Visions offers contemplative practices to our medflashmob-27teens that teach and encourage skills for self-regulation and self-care. We have regular yoga classes and a weekly meditation group.

 

Jessica Rosen, founder of One Down Dog in Silverlake, heads up our yoga program. She brings in a playful element to yoga that the kids love. This allows them to reconnect with themselves in a profound way. I spoke to Jessica and asked her what she feels she brings to the clients, and how contemplative practices are helpful in recovery. She said, “Through the practice of yoga I hope to offer students the tools to get comfortable in discomfort. Through yoga and meditation we explore our challenges, we confront our inner critic, we gain clarity and find acceptance. For example, the ability to sit in a hip opener may help us sit through a tough breakup, or better handle confrontation and fights with our friends/parents, and gain confidence in ourselves and our appearance.”

 

I also asked Joseph Rogers, Visions Education Coordinator at the Visions Day School, Chaplain and meditation facilitator, how he feels meditation is helping the clients.  Joseph said, “The most immediate and greatest benefit is that the clients learn how to, as the Big Book says, ‘stop and pause when agitated.’ Additionally, I try to make a great deal of effort to put these kids on the path of compassion for themselves and others.”

 

The contemplative practices can have a profound effect on one’s ability to self-regulate, self-soothe, and connect with the present moment. Both offer a chance to pause, to look inward, and to come to a place of equanimity (mental calmness and composure) when faced with difficulty.

 

I too teach yoga to youth, and one thing I notice are the high levels of stress these kids face. The pressures of being cool, getting good grades, and the discomfort of the rapid physical changes can be overwhelming. This is where contemplative practices are useful. I’ve found that teaching kids the ability to take a deep breath and pause before responding or reacting to difficulty is hugely beneficial. Developing a sense of self-awareness helps eliminate the sense of perpetual urgency to respond or act on an impulse. The contemplative practices also engage the parasympathetic nervous system—the area within our nervous system that quiets the fight or flight response, quells anxiety, and brings things back into harmony.

 

There are three key tools for self-regulation, and the contemplative practices are the perfect conduit for them:

 

Grounding, Resourcing, and Orienting.

 

Grounding: Reconnecting to the present moment, your emotions and physical sensations. One grounds themselves by noticing their feet on the floor, or placing your hands on something solid in order to help themselves get back into the body. Taking deep breaths while you are doing this can help you track the sensations mindfully. Taking a time out when you are dysregulated is the first step to getting grounded.

 

Resourcing:  We all have resources within us or outside of ourselves. Resources are tools we can easily access that make us reconnect with calm. For example, breath can be a resource. Your hands on your belly or lap can be a resource. Your pet can be a resource. A resource is something that helps you feel good when everything around you is dismal.

 

Orienting:  Checking in with your surroundings. When we are not self-regulated, we check out. This is a disembodying experience–one that feels determinedly unsafe and out of control.  So when we orient, we do so by consciously noticing our surroundings and we do this by looking around the room, noticing where we are, where we are sitting or standing—Orienting is acute observation or present-time awareness.

 

The contemplatice practices of yoga and meditation provide a means of engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. They create a sense of awareness, and allow the practitioner to be ok with not being ok, and to accept where they are emotionally and physically in that particular moment in space and time.  Addiction and mental illness are dysregulating, but the use of contemplative practices opens the door to self-regulation, which does foster recovery.

Categories
Adolescence Holidays Mental Health Mindfulness Recovery Self-Care Service Spirituality Teen Activism Wellness

Resolution, Schmesolution: Create a New Year Theme

© 2013 sarit z. rogers — all rights reserved

It’s that time: New Year’s Eve celebrations are upon us! For many, it’s the time of year often met with party plans and resolutions. Parties and resolutions together sound like a juxtaposition and affect some legitimate irony, but nevertheless, they go together for most people every 31st of December. However, if you are in recovery, have clearer eyes and hopefully a wiser mind, things might look a bit different during this time of year.

 

There are several articles offering tips and guidelines for setting up the “perfect” New Year resolutions, 0r embarking on a New Year cleanse, or signing up for a New Year workout plan. The one thing all of these have in common is the idea that you can and will actually commit to changing a bevy of major things just because it’s the New Year. Sadly, many fail or abandon those impassioned resolutions after a few weeks. One article in particular stuck out to me. This article suggests creating a theme for the New Year rather than a resolution. A New Year’s Theme! That is right in line with the New Year Intentions I have suggested in the past. Both of these, a theme or an intention, are something that can easily be created, worked with and maintained throughout the year. Rather than seeking perfection, or a grand, finite accomplishment, a theme or intention allows one to slowly change behaviors and invite the possibility of more long-term, sustainable changes.

 

What might your New Year’s Theme or Intention be for 2014?

 

Kindness: The wonderful quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. You can choose to practice random and not so random acts of kindness throughout the year. Make it a year of being kind when you might otherwise be gruff. Invite some personal curiosity and investigation about what it might be like to respond to difficulty with kindness instead of anger or fear. It’s an interesting one to work with, but everyone can be kind and deserves kindness in return.

 

Mindfulness: Also looked at as keen “awareness,” mindfulness is an astute awareness of reality and the present moment.  It is an acknowledgement that things are just as they are in that moment. If you make mindfulness your New Year theme, perhaps you will begin by investigating the contemplative practices of meditation and yoga. Or perhaps it might mean choosing not to use your cell phone when you are walking around and instead bringing your awareness to your surroundings and becoming more present. It might mean driving without the radio on, or not always having your cell phone nearby. It might mean eating dinner without the television on so you can be more present with your family. Remember, it is not about perfection; this is a practice.

 

Wellness: If you are desirous of changing your health or the way you eat or the amount of activity you engage in, this is a wonderful theme. You might do this by ruling out meat for one day a week, or by eating more greens. You may choose to limit your caffeine, or cut down on your cigarettes or vape pens: eventually you may even quit! You can increase your wellness, that healthy balance of mind, body and spirit, even if you start small. In fact, small changes over a long period of time have a longer lasting effect.

 

Movement: Increase your physicality in 2014. You can start with walking more or riding your bike. If you usually drive to the corner store or to a meeting that’s only a mile away, try riding a bike once a week! The more you do ride your bike or walk, the more it might become a habit. Honestly, there’s no concrete rule about how long habits take to form or break. Instead, look at this as small opportunities for personal change.

 

Service: Make 2014 your year of being of service! Take a commitment at a meeting and keep it for a year. Volunteer to feed the homeless. Volunteer at an animal shelter once a week. Find a cause you believe in and get involved in raising awareness about it. Being of service is the fulcrum of recovery; “We can’t keep it unless we give it away” is one of the most-often repeated sayings relating to being of service. Write it on something you can always see to remind you to get out of yourself and into action.

 

No matter your theme or plan, the New Year is a time of reflection and growth. It is an opportunity to reflect on the past year so we can grow into the new one. May you ring this New Year in with self-care, compassion, kindness, and great joy. We wish you a wonderful New Year celebration and look forward to celebrating and growing with you in 2014.

Categories
Mental Health Mindfulness Recovery Spirituality

Forgiveness: The Path Back to Your Heart

“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” Rumi

Forgiveness: It’s something we seek and it’s something we can give others. In recovery, forgiveness is imperative for the healing process to really thrive. In the 12-step process, we do inventories to uncover and discover the grievances we may have with others, and more importantly, with ourselves.  But for many of us, this idea of forgiveness, compassion, and kindness are foreign to us. In fact, in some circles, being compassionate and forgiving someone’s foibles is considered a weakness.

 

First, we must start with forgiving ourselves. The truth is, this is easier said than done. We are stuck with internal tapes on a loupe, reminding us of our insignificance and shame. We are inundated with fractured family systems that influence our self-esteem and self-worth. We are touched by the shame and sometimes self-righteous justification of our reactions. To begin this process of forgiveness and self-compassion takes a willingness to take contrary action and go into the emotional places of discomfort. Learning to love ourselves and be kind to ourselves is hard work. But it’s work well worth doing.

 

When I was younger, my anger fueled me. In some ways, it was also the thing that protected me. However, when I came to recovery, I was deeply affected by tragedy and trauma. At the same time, my dysfunctional family system projected blame and shame onto me, leaving me bereft of any ability to be kind to myself. When I began to do the inner work required to redefine my paradigm, I was frozen by fear. This wasn’t delicate work; it was an archeological excavation. But I soon realized that if I was to truly be of service and help others, I had to help myself first. If we are an empty well, we ultimately have nothing to give others.

 

The contemplative practices of yoga and meditation resonate with me, particularly in relation to my recovery.  These are the practices that have ultimately shown me the way to being of service, being kind, and having an open heart. There are a series of meditations called the Brahma Viharas. They are the heart practices, typically referred to as metta practice. They are:  lovingkindness, forgiveness, and compassion.  In each of these, you focus your energy on phrases that nurture a sense of lovingkindness, forgiveness, and compassion to yourself, someone you love, a benefactor, a difficult person, and then all beings. Often times, it is suggested to focus primarily on yourself in the beginning, sometimes even for the first year of your meditation practice. Cultivating compassion, forgiveness, and love for yourself is, in and of itself, the act of filling your well.

 

Yoga provides another opportunity: the chance to get back into your body through breath and movement. We can begin to forgive our inflexibility with patience; we can begin to forgive our hyper-flexibility by developing stability.  Both meditation and yoga are opportunities to reconnect with ourselves, and ultimately finding refuge within. One breath, one kind act of self care at a time.

 

I am reminded of the phrase, “My Friend, the Enemy.” Within it, compassion and forgiveness come together. When we develop compassion, we begin to develop the space to forgive those who have harmed us, those we resent, or those who continue to suffer. It doesn’t mean that we justify harms done; it means we get to put down the hot coal of anger we’ve been carrying around so our hearts can heal.

 

Links for Meditation and Yoga:

Against the Stream

Insight LA

Recovery 2.o

Julian Walker

Categories
Mindfulness Recovery Self-Care Spirituality Trauma

Yoga Teacher Training: Transformation

First practicum EVER! #teachertraining #yoga via saritphoto

It’s been an incredible 9 days of yoga teacher training. I have been cracked open and infused with so many tools, love, support, an incredible community, a mountain of information; it’s not even close to being over! I am just beginning what I believe to be a lifelong process of learning. Sure, when I complete these 200 hours, this particular training will be over, but to me, yoga is something that is always evolving. The body is changing: as we age, as we get injured, heal, go through life changes, it changes, and there is always something to learn.

 

When I began this journey, I knew from an intellectual space that I would be learning about yoga: postures, how they should be aligned, how trauma presents in the body, how it releases, where the muscles and bones are, et cetera. I knew I was going to learn a lot from these teachers, and I knew that I was going to learn in a unique way. Hala Khouri is a Somatic Experiencing therapist, after all, and she brings that into the way she speaks and teaches. It has been illuminating. I also had a good feeling that there might even be some kind of transformation. I had no idea how much would actually occur.

 

My teachers are not conventional yoga teachers. They are uniquely themselves, exploring and teaching a non-dualistic path to a reality-based, grounded practice of yoga. They teach us about trauma so we are conscious about keeping our classes safe and grounded. They are teaching us about grounding, orienting and resourcing, terms familiar to me from my understanding of Somatic Experiencing and recovery work, but also applicable in a yoga class. Finding refuge in my body has happened for me on my yoga mat, but that has occurred because I have been fortunate to have teachers skilled in creating a sacred space for their students to have their own liberating experiences. In this yoga teacher training, we are being taught to do the same and that means we need to know how to ground, orient, and provide resourcing options for our students. It is in these ways that we can find refuge within and ultimately have a transformation, no matter how small it may be.

 

My recovery has never been one-dimensional. As I’ve tacked on more years, I have explored my spiritual paths, finding a calling to dig deeper into the layers of muck within myself that caused me to shrink back in layers of fear, shyness, insecurity, self-loathing, shame, lack of trust, or whatever rose to the surface. It is within the contemplative practices of yoga and meditation where I learned to dance with my fear and face my shadows. It was through those practices, the steps, therapy, and a lot of patience that I learned to shine particles of light into the darkest of places.  This yoga teacher training has lifted me up and supported every ounce of my practice, leading me through layers that still need excavating and continues to show me the way to play with my shadow side. I am finding my voice. Ironically, it is the one thing that eludes me. My voice as a writer is strong, but as a public speaker? Forget about it!

 

So, dear ones, This week rounds out module one. The transformation has been incredibly real. I am more grounded, more open, and more equanimous. I feel more connected to everyone and everything around me. And, more importantly, I feel the most “me” I have ever felt. Let’s dance!

Categories
Mental Health Mindfulness Recovery Self-Care Trauma

Yoga: A Personal Journey of Investigation

Keri-Anne Telford (Photo credit: Sarit Photography)

Yoga and Buddhist meditation play an enormous part in my personal story. They are the practices that have allowed me find refuge in my body, courage in my heart, and the fearlessness to walk into the darkness that once plagued me and led me to self-harm, drink, fall apart, and detach. In truth, I find that learning to relate to ourselves better equips us in our ability to relate to others. Because isn’t the ultimate goal really to help others and to be of service?

 

Today, I begin the first module of my 200-hour yoga teacher training with Julian Walker and Hala Khouri—two individuals I hold in high regard. I had investigated this training (Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind) for 2 years previous and allowed my fear of the adventure and deep personal investigation to get in my way. This time feels different. This time, I was finally ready. I’m grateful for this opportunity and excited to see what will ultimately unfold. Working with trauma has really become the driving force behind my own practice and has become something I’ve found beneficial for the women I work with. Those who work with trauma are inspiring and I understand that if we can unravel the web of hurt and pain, we have an opportunity for real healing, knowing that it takes willingness to feel discomfort and to face the very things that plague us.

 

I didn’t just want “any” yoga teacher training, I wanted something that would foster my own healing around trauma, my need to be of service and my deep desire to help others change their relationships to their bodies and the traumas we all hold within our physical and emotional structures. This teacher training in particular blends the “ancient and modern, Buddhist and Yogic, anatomical and energetic, spiritual and psychological tools and information” to allow the practitioner/student to truly find their authentic voice in this vast world of spiritual practice, allowing themselves to truly find a space to heal and have a voice.

 

Check out Julian Walker’s style of yoga and his approach to training in his book, Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind: A Modern Yoga Philosophy Infused with Somatic Psychology & Neuroscience. It’s an interesting, inspiring, heart-opening read. I feel fortunate and deeply honored to be a part of this journey and excited to share whatever unfolds with the Visions community, because in many ways, you all are my heart and what also inspire me to be of service and do what I do. I’ll be journaling this adventure, so stay tuned!

 

“Compassion is not always nice. We can set boundaries, tell truths and express anger while still being compassionate.” Julian Walker

Interesting reads:

21st Century Yoga

Yoga PhD

Threads of Yoga

 

Categories
Mental Health Mindfulness Recovery Self-Care Spirituality

Deepening Our Recovery With Yoga and Meditation

recovery |riˈkəvərē|

noun

1. a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength;

2. the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost. 

This Statue of Shiva (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we begin the process of recovery from various addictions, some may be surprised to find there are a number of approaches to recovery. This is promising. It means recovery isn’t one-size-fits-all, and it means there is hope for those who may be having some difficulties finding their way. While some of us may solely lean on the 12 steps to create a foundation in recovery, others find they can also lean on the Eastern practices of yoga and meditation. The latter two provide a unique path for practitioners to compassionately look at themselves and develop the means to create a healing “space” within the mind and body. In this way, yoga and meditation encourage an internal healing, and ultimately nurture our minds and bodies toward a spiritual and physical recovery. These modalities cultivate recovery by using a most practical tool: the breath. “Our breath is portable,” says Sharon Salzberg, a renowned meditation teacher. No one can see it, touch it, or take it away from you. It is simple, yet powerful in its silence.

When we engage in our addictive behaviors, we disconnect from ourselves and from our bodies: I remember distinctly using so I didn’t have to feel. I sought to desensitize my mind, body and soul by means of drugs, alcohol, starvation and self-harming.  In sobriety, this behavior often continued with the transference of addictive behaviors, proving that the desire to nullify emotions or sensations is sometimes stronger than the desire to face them. Here’s where things like yoga and meditation are remarkable. They gently encourage you to come back to the present; to face the shadows; to embrace the often difficult process of recovery. This doesn’t mean you can or should ignore the 12 steps. Rather, yoga and meditation are what allow you to take the foundation you create with the steps to a deeper place. In this way, yoga and meditation facilitate our innate ability to undo the physical erosion created by our addictions.

I recently took a class with Seane Corn called “Yoga for a Broken Heart.” For an hour and a half, she addressed the physical manifestations of grief, compassionately leading us through the process of creating a healing space within our bodies with movement and breath. At one point, she said, “You can’t have light without the shadows.” How apropos for the recovering mind! It reminded me that none of us come into recovery without demons or shadows. We all have them, and we probably had them while we were using. In fact, how many of us used because of them? I know I did. Frankly, the sheer thought of turning to face them was abhorrent to me, and in the beginning, I did it with so much resistance, the shadows sometimes won. Truth be told, we come into recovery with an unspoken need to grieve. Modalities like yoga and meditation show us a way to create the space in our bodies to face that grief with compassion instead of anger and fear. Think of it this way: when we use, we disallow the grieving process by blocking it with “stuff.” Imagine what would happen if we gently removed that extraneous stuff and began to let it go. We can do that with these practices. We can allow what is to just be and we can let go of the things that are holding us back.

With yoga, we are graced with a set period of time where our breath takes precedence. We are afforded the opportunity to let go of the competitive mind and face the very thing we’ve been avoiding: ourselves. As we cultivate this space, we learn to give ourselves the love and attention we sought with our addictive behaviors. We begin to practice the art of forgiveness and become compassionate toward ourselves. We ultimately learn to find comfort in our skin, in our bodies, and in our minds. Through this process, we can and will find light in the shadows.

For more information, check out:

Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention

Yoga for Addiction Recovery

Q & A With Tommy Rosen

Mindfulness and Meditation (weekly meetings)

 

Categories
Mental Health Stress

Stress: Too Much Pressure

When I think of stress, I think of a rubber band being stretched beyond its limit and its eventual ruptured demise. Though our bodies are provided with a natural alarm system, designed to protect us during perilous times, that same fight-or-flight response becomes erosive if it’s engaged for too long—much like that rubber band.

The body isn’t meant to live in a persistent state of fight-or-flight. The result of too much stress results in a concurrence of innumerable health problems. Still, our bodies are remarkable machines, having inbuilt mechanisms that help us move through our lives, and when something stressful occurs, our bodies jump into action.

A perceived threat will trigger the hypothalamus (a tiny region in the brain which sets off the body’s alarm system). This system prompts the adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. While the adrenaline increases the heart rate, raises blood pressure, and creates an energy surge, cortisol (the body’s primary stress hormone) increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances the brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.(1)

Cortisol has a huge job to do: it keeps the nonessential or potentially detrimental functions at bay during the flight-or-flight response, adjusting the immune system and even suppressing the digestive system, the reproductive system, and growth processes as it does its job. This systemic stress response is self-regulating: when the threat passes, the body begins to normalize itself.  However, when there is too much stress—too many perceived threats—over an extended period of time, the adrenals and cortisol  lose their ability to work efficiently. A persistent overexposure to stress hormones can “disrupt almost all your body’s processes,” increasing the risk for a number of other physical or emotional difficulties:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Fatigue
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Digestive problems
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness or depression
  • Irritability or anger
  • Eating disorders
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Social withdrawal

These difficulties are merely a sampling of what is often a long, detailed list of reactions to stress. Left unattended, stress can have negative long-term effects on a you.

So, what do you do when the pressures in your life are mounting with no end in sight? More than you think and in simpler ways than you can imagine. It’s not like you need a vacation to a tropical island to feel better (though that would be amazing!).

Start simply, but be consistant:

  • Exercise. It raises your endorphins and releases tension.
  • Meditation. Start with 5 minutes a day sitting in silence is too much. Work up to longer periods; before you know it, you’ll be sitting for 30-45 minutes at a time!
  • Yoga. It’s a wonderful way to work with your body and breath, creating a synergistic energy that is both energizing, heart opening, and calming.
  • Tai chi. Another wonderful way to move y our body in time with your breath. Slow, mindful movements bring you into the present–something that’s easily lost when stress is in charge.
  • Relaxation techniques. One of my favorites is a breathing exercise in yoga where you breathe in for a count of five and breathe out for a count of six. As you continue, increase the count on the in-breath while increasing the count on the out-breath. It’s been shown to relax the brain and body as you exhale for a longer count than on the inhale.

Stress isn’t something to shrug off. It’s quickly become a major health concern for an increasingly larger population. It’s time to stop. It’s time to take time every day to do something for yourself. The old adage of “I’m too busy to…” is nil. The reality is, we don’t have time not to take care of ourselves.

1 source: https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress/SR00001)