Ten Steps to Starting a Self-Care Practice – Part 2

Last week, I started a post called Ten Steps to Starting a Self Care Program – Part 1.  I didn’t intend to wait a whole week before posting the second part, but life happened.  I got busy and the next thing I knew it was a week later.  On a positive note, you should all be experts at the first three steps by now.

Here are the remaining steps:

4. Get used to asking for help

It is truly ok to communicate your needs to others.  A lot of us are traumatized because we once tried to communicate our needs in the past and we got stepped on.  This stuff happens a lot, but your right to communicate your needs still exists even if someone else didn’t/doesn’t recognize it.  Find someone who recognizes it and responds to it positively.  Being able to express your needs to another can be a powerfully healing act.

5. Stop giving your power away

Every time you make your healing dependent on the actions of another individual, not only are you giving them all of your power, but you’re putting your well-being into the hands of someone who can only help you in a limited way.  You must be the administrator of your own healing.  Another person can certainly help you along by offering you forgiveness, apologies or saving the day, but ultimately, you are the person in control of whether or not you release your suffering.

6. Stop accepting other people’s power

If someone is expecting you to be their hero and sweep down and fix all of their problems, know that you can only provide them limited service.  You can help them along by offering forgiveness, apologies or saving the day, but ultimately they are in control of whether or not they release their suffering.  They may be constantly making demands on you, and you may be fulfilling them, but then they squander everything you give them by not using it to help themselves.  That’s not a pattern you want to be in.

7. Allow yourself professional help

It’s truly ok to spend time and money on yourself.  It can actually be an incredibly empowering act to do so.  It helps you recognize that you are worth the investment.  You are valuable and therefore your health is valuable.  Also, it makes a lot more sense to invest in your self-care before it gets to the point where you can no longer go on without it.  There are many, many people out there whose job it is to help you focus on your own healing.  If you can’t do that, at least do research, read books, read blogs and follow people online who inspire you.

8. Do it

Carve out ten minutes a day or one hour a week or whatever you can manage.  Throw as much time towards it as you can.  Once you’ve done this, you might start seeing where and how you can re-organize your life to make your self-care easier.  You’d be surprised at how many solutions seem obvious and clear once you start taking some time for yourself.  It might be awkward and difficult, at first, but it will get easier with time.

9. Recognize that feeling guilty/awkward/agitated is ok and know that it will pass

If self-care is a rare occurrence for you, your new practices are going to feel weird, at first.  You’ll probably have a lot of conflicting emotions about it, and that’s fine.  Let yourself feel the way you feel.  All emotions tend to naturally dissipate as long as you allow yourself the freedom to feel them.  This is the time when you need to just be patient.  Like anything else, the more you practice, the more natural it seems.

meditating_mudra

10. Keep it up

If you continue, you will probably start seeing the value of caring for yourself more and more.  Because of this, you’ll probably want to devote more time to it.  Other priorities that you once thought were indispensable might suddenly not seem so important compared to your self-care.

Ok, so there you have it, ten steps to self-care.  I think that like with anything that is designed to help you it is better to start sooner rather than later.  If you aren’t taking good enough care of yourself, what is stopping you?  There is only one you, there will only ever be one you, and your time is limited.  Why not make the most of your Earthly time with yourself?  Let’s talk about this!  Put your comments or questions below.

Ten Steps to Starting a Self-Care Practice – Part 1

I work as a Reiki Practitioner and Yoga Teacher, but lately, it seems like my job description has been, “Person Who Tries to Convince People to Take Care of Themselves.”  I often find myself running into people who treat everyone else better than they treat themselves.

Not surprisingly, these are the people who are wilting—failing to thrive—they are suffering from stress related illnesses and in need of healing.  This is how they end up with me.  They deny themselves until they get to the point where they can’t go any further without professional help.

It’s not that I don’t like having clients, and it’s not that I don’t enjoy helping the people that I see.  I adore every person who has ever come to see me and because of that, it pains me to see how far gone they let themselves get before they act.

I know that self-care feels like extra work.  It’s another pull on your time and energy.  I get it.  It’s also a skill that you develop, like anything else.  The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Here are first few steps on how you can start a new self-care routine:

1. Make it a priority

Your first priority should always be you.  It may seem like other things should be a higher priority, but think of it this way—you can’t offer anyone your best self until you become your best self.  As long as you are denying you, you are denying the world your best self.  And yes, I do recommend completely turning your life upside-down if necessary.  There is only one you; make the most of what you have.

2. Plan for it

In this world of constant distractions, interruptions and requests, if you don’t consciously make a plan, it will never happen.  There was a time when humans were naturally faced with the question of self-care because of lack of easily accessible distractions.  We were forced to sit with ourselves while taking trains, standing in long lines, walking to destinations or merely sitting alone in our rooms without the convenient distraction of tablets, laptops, phones and TVs.  Because of the possibility of constant connectivity, it has become the general expectation that you always be available to your friends, family and boss.  Given this climate, self-care time needs to be planned.

3. Find the things that work

Journaling Man

When we hear the term “self-care” we conjure up images of old Calgon commercials and reading cheezy romance novels on the beach.  In actuality, it means different things to different people.  It could mean a hot bath.  It could mean a Yoga class.  It could mean starting a journal.  It could mean going for a run or taking a nap.  It could mean a Reiki session.  It could mean saying to your husband/wife/partner/kids, “Feed yourselves tonight, I’m going for a walk.”  It could mean all of those things or none of those things.

Ask yourself what feeds your soul.  Even if you don’t believe in souls, you probably have some idea of what this means—you feel like you’re being fed on some internal, basic level.  If you don’t know, try this: Sit down in a quiet spot somewhere, take a few deep breaths and relax.  When you reach a state of calm openness, then pose the question to yourself.  The fear of judgment will probably arise, but give yourself permission to have free reign on that question.  After all, no one needs to know the answers but you.  Ask yourself this question often because what fed you yesterday may not feed you today.

This a two part series and part 2 can be found by clicking here.

A whole new self-care regimen takes time and contemplation to start.  The first three steps, require a bit of effort and patience.  I know that patience is hard to come by.  But, the things that help us the most are the things that require an Investment of time.  You will reap the rewards in the future.

Do you have any self-care rituals now?  Is there anything that feeds you on a basic level that you find surprising?  Tell us below!

The Yin and Yang of Goal Setting

Since this is the time of year when the conversation turns to goal setting, I thought I would talk about it here.  We keep hearing that we should set goals, and we all nod in agreement, “Yes, yes, goals are good.”  Human beings are natural goal setters.  Whether the goal is to take over the world, win a game of [whatever people play these days] or have another piece of chocolate cake, we all already have plenty of goals.

The magic of goal setting is all in the how of it.  In 2013, I learned what I call the Yin and Yang of goal setting.  This is about learning to balance between the soft and the hard; decisiveness and flexibility.

The Magic of Goal Setting

In Myers-Brigg Typology (MBTI), the last letter of anyone’s type is either a P or a J.  It’s an indication of your relationship to your goal-setting.  I like to think that J’s go to their goals, whereas P’s let their goals come to them.

The P stands for “perceiver” and the J stands for “judger.”  Here is the description of the difference between a P and a J on the MBTI website.

 Here’s a slightly entertaining video about how P’s and J’s approach goals differently.

In short, J’s like to plan ahead and P’s acknowledge that nothing can ever really be planned ahead because the world is an ever evolving place where nothing can be predicted.

 Full Disclosure: My boyfriend is a strong J and I am a strong-ish P.

Let me tell you a story about us to demonstrate the differences between a P and a J:

We like to hike a lot.  When we first got together, my boyfriend would refuse to set foot on a trail without having studied multiple trail maps for several minutes, thoroughly discussed all of the possibilities, have our entire route planned, plus alternates if the first route didn’t work out.  This was true even in small parks that contained one trail.  I was impatient with that process.  I stared off into the woods while he did this and said things like, “Yep, sounds good….” And “uh huh, good idea.”  When he got to the third contingency plan regarding what to do in case of bear attack in our local city park, I would say, “Ok, can we start hiking now?”

On the other hand, I would walk a half mile up a trail in a giant state park that was full of crisscrossing trails and warning signs about life-threatening dangers before I’d turn to my boyfriend and say, “By the way, did we bring a map?”  At which point, he’d look at me incredulously, and start pulling out four different kinds, inevitably re-traumatizing me causing me to shriek, “No, no, no more planning!  Keep them away!”

Ok, this scenario is a slight exaggeration.

The true difference between P’s and J’s isn’t that J’s plan and P’s don’t.  The difference is that J’s prefer to make decisions (Yang) so they can put on their blinders and head unimpeded towards a goal, whereas P’s prefer to hold off decisions (Yin) and keep an eye out for new information—to wait for the decision to reveal itself.

Of course, most of the time, most of us do whatever is appropriate to the given situation, but our preferences often win out when there is some wiggle room.

How this manifests in your life depends on the other letters in your MBTI and all of the millions of little things that make you uniquely you.

Because my boyfriend and I have opposite personality types, we like to think that we can learn from one another’s perspective.

Before I learned anything, this is how goal-setting manifested in my life:

I was a wonderful short-term planner.  I could tell you exactly what I was going to do within the next five minutes, sometimes within the next few hours.  On exceptional days, I knew what I was going to be doing for the entire day.   I was an amazing doer.  I was doing, doing, doing, but without any particular long-term goals in mind I always felt unaccomplished.

As for my boyfriend, he was, and still is, one of those people for whom if you ask, “What’s your five year plan?” can tell you, and not in a wouldn’t-it-be-nice-if-this-happened-fantasy way.  It will be in a realistic these-are-the-plans-for-my-current-options kind of way.  Before he learned anything from me, this meant that he spent a lot of time planning, and then re-planning when he saw that an old plan wasn’t going to work out.  For some reason, things that need to be noticed before they could be addressed (such as cleaning the house, a picturesque view or a bad mood) had the tendency to get overlooked completely.

So far, this is what I have learned about goal setting:

Having long-term goals doesn’t mean imagining the ideal end-point for all of my activities and turning them into goals.  As painful as it was for me, I needed to start prioritizing in order to bring anything to fruition.  I had to accept that I wasn’t going to become the world’s best underwater yoga instructor, join the NYC ballet, write the next great American novel, invent a new vaccine for cancer and finish my MA all this year.  I made a handful of annual goals, created a realistic schedule for achieving them and made every other activity optional.  I did this around mid-summer 2013 and you wouldn’t be reading this blog right now if I hadn’t.

This is how I added some Yang to my Yin approach.

So far, this is what my boyfriend learned about goal setting:

A well-constructed long-term goal includes several short-term goals that aren’t necessarily directly related to the goal, such as doing several smaller, seemingly insignificant tasks (like cleaning or occasionally checking out the environment).  He found that it can be valuable to take off the blinders to get a much more inclusive and comprehensive view of any given situation.  Sometimes, rather than planning out of necessity, there were times he made plans to cope with anxiety.  He has found that in low-risk situations, there is value in setting aside planning altogether and embracing spontaneity.  For bigger, more risky commitments, he has learned to hold off major decisions until he has done plenty of research.  This has allowed him to be more comfortable with the times when it’s better to not make a decision.

This is how he added Yin to his Yang approach.

It is somewhere in there, when we figure out how to balance the Yin and Yang of goal setting, where we find that sweet spot of feeling accomplished without making ourselves crazy.

How do you approach your goals?  When you think about goal-setting, what comes up for you?  How and where do you find that balance between being an over-planner or an under-planner?  Let us know in the comments below!

Be Selfish and Learn to Forgive

“Hanging onto resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head.”  By now, most of us have heard this quote that is attributed to Ann Landers,   We all know this intellectually, but we’ve all also experienced resistance to forgiveness and invent reasons to justify that resistance.

For example, we tell ourselves that it is our job to correct someone else’s behavior. Most of the time, people know when they’ve done something wrong. Your unforgiving behavior is not news to them. It’s more likely to make them feel resentful and that makes them want to do it again just to piss you off.

If we aren’t the correction type, we may call our unforgiveness a form of self-protection. We tell ourselves that letting someone back into our hearts makes us vulnerable and that’s a risk that can’t be taken. In some cases, I’m sure that’s true; no one is going to tell you to shack up with an abusive partner because it’s the forgiving thing to do (and if someone does, please don’t listen to them). However, most of the time you don’t need to shack up with someone to offer them forgiveness.

Similarly to the fear of getting hurt, there is the fear of going backwards—that we’re resigning ourselves to going back to some old dissatisfactory relationship—but that’s probably not the case, either. People evolve over time. As long as you honor that, all of your relationships will change over time, even the satisfactory ones. Some will get better, some will get worse and some will just fizzle out.

Most of all, we don’t make forgiveness a high priority. Sometimes forgiveness feels like emotional broccoli. Resentment feels like emotional chocolate cake, and we approach it the same way. “Can’t I just have a cheat-day full of resentment? On Monday, I’ll start my strict forgiveness diet.”

Rather than understanding it in terms of personal benefit, we relate it to ethics or some cosmic good, which isn’t exactly as motivating as a sugar rush or the satisfaction of imagining a giant safe falling onto the heads of the unforgiven folks in our lives.

Because of an abundance of recent studies, like with nutrition, we no longer need to rely on some vague notion that a way of behaving (or eating) is somehow better than another—now we know how. Eating your veggies makes us feel good fairly quickly.

Today, I stumbled across a study called “How the Brain Heals Emotional Wounds: The Functional Neuroanatomy of Forgiveness.”  It offers us scientific motivation to start learning how to forgive.

This study was conducted by asking volunteers to “[engage] in script-driven mental imagery of interpersonal wrong doings resulting in a hurtful condition and were instructed either to forgive or to feel resentment and think about revenge toward imagined offenders.¹”

The subjects were asked to imagine that someone did them dirty, and then either imagine offering forgiveness the person or imagine harboring resentment about it. Being entirely imaginary makes it sound as though it wouldn’t have much of an emotional impact compared to actually having been screwed over by another person. This makes it even more amazing that they saw differences between the “forgiveness” group and the “resentment” group.

They used both subjective measurements (like asking them how they felt) and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to study the results.

This is what they found:

We observed a link between forgiveness and subjective relief, which supports its use in therapeutic settings as an aid for the promotion of mental health. We observed activation in a brain cortical network responsible for perspective taking processes, appraisal and empathy, suggesting that these processes may play an important role in the adaptive extinction of negative affect and prevention of potential aggressive and socially unacceptable behavior.²

In other words, forgiveness makes the forgiver feel better. This study observed it both subjectively and neurologically.

These measurements were taken during imaginary situations with imaginary responses. Picture the potency of healing when the situations are real.

Because this is all happening in your head, I’m going to say that it won’t work if you merely go through the motions of forgiveness without sincerity. That probably works about as well as giving a gift with the expectation of reciprocity (you’re probably going to be disappointed).

If you’re going back and forth about whether or not to let someone back into your heart, then go ahead and be selfish about it: forgive for you.

How has forgiveness (or lack of forgiveness) played a role in your life? Does this change how you feel about forgiveness? Leave a comment to tell us about it.

¹Ricciardi, E., Rota, G., Sani, L., Gentili, C., Gaglianese, A., Guazzelli, M., & Pietrini, P. (2013). How the brain heals emotional wounds: the functional neuroanatomy of forgiveness. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 839. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2013.00839, p. 5-6
²ibid, p. 7

Guest Post by Adam Valerio – Healing Without Belief

This is a guest post written by Adam Valerio. Adam is a scholar who researches the intersection between science and Asian religions.

I once heard a Zen Buddhist master say, “You can have everything that you want in life, as long as you don’t care what form it takes.” For me, this comment applies to many subjects, including healing. Take Reiki, for example. Nowadays, many people have heard of it, some know that it is a healing modality, and it’s not so uncommon to have heard that the means by which Reiki works is often explained in terms of subtle energy (ki) transfer. Yet, when it comes to giving Reiki a try, for those who do not believe in the existence of a normally invisible energy that moves between people and their greater environment, this is a deal breaker. After all, if Reiki relies on this energy to work and you don’t think that this energy even exists, trying Reiki would be a waste of time, right? Though understandable, that would be incorrect, my friend! I’m here to tell you that belief doesn’t have to matter! You can attribute the functioning of Reiki and other healing modalities to any mechanism—ie, form—you’d like (or leave it a mystery!) and you would probably still get similar if not identical results. Think about the mechanism of action in terms of heat transfer, nerve-bundle signal jamming, endocrine system stimulation, subtle energy, or even microscopic elves doing Santa Claus’ bidding. It doesn’t matter! If it helps you feel better, isn’t that good enough? Not convinced yet? No problem! For those of you with a similar natural disposition to me—wariness toward the explanations of others—I’m here to help.

To continue with our example of Reiki, its story oddly has a lot in common with the story of the tomato, at least in North America. Really, it’s true (kinda)! The story goes like this: by the mid to late-1500s, tomatoes—native to Central and South America—were a staple of many continental European diets. However, it seems that most North Americans weren’t eating tomatoes until well into the 1800s. According to legend, it wasn’t until 1820, when Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson had the audacity to eat a tomato (or perhaps a bunch of tomatoes) on the steps of the Old County Courthouse in Salem, New Jersey, that Americans considered giving tomatoes a try.¹ Even though most Americans had supposedly never tasted a tomato up until that point, it was obvious to them that tomatoes were poisonous, as these fruits belonged to the same family (nightshade) as several poisonous plants. Thus, in theory, to eat a tomato was to eat poison. Not unlike our present-day friend, the delicious tomato, many helpful therapies have been rejected at one time or another because it didn’t make theoretical sense to try them. This phenomenon has been termed the “tomato effect.”² In some cases, therapies previously suffering from the tomato effect were thought to be harmful; in others, they were simply viewed as a waste of time. Hmm….waste of time…. Sound familiar?

Before we take a look at how the tomato effect plays out in our own decision-making, let’s first look at it in the context of conventional biomedical thinking. Medical knowledge and decision-making function in accordance with two sometimes conflicting modes: rationalism and empiricism. In medicine, to be a rationalist is to base treatment decisions on what makes theoretical sense—much like our long-gone tomato-avoiding brethren. Medical empiricists, in contrast, are concerned with observed outcomes in past patients and research subjects. In other words, they prioritize experience over theory—the delectableness of the red fruit over the toxic yuckiness of its distant cousins. Yet, even those empiricists most dedicated to maintaining a practice of “evidence-based medicine” will get tripped up by observations that don’t cohere with their theoretical assumptions. This is because the majority of medical professionals are actually a mix of rationalist and empiricist. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for medical professionals to be very out of touch with their own reasoning as to why they prioritized one mode over another in any given situation. In the case of pharmaceuticals, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can be quite empirically-minded, sometimes approving drugs where the mechanism of action is still unknown and all they have is evidence that it works. In other words, when it comes to pill popping, efficacy seems to be good enough for the FDA.

Is efficacy also good enough for the general public? Well, most of us aren’t pouring over research studies when making decisions about our health treatments. Some of us will peruse internet sites, but most of us have neither the time or training for an exhaustive analysis. Isn’t that what doctors are for? They tell us what works. We take Doc’s word on it and most of us are cool with that. Still, do they tell us how our treatments work? Perhaps sometimes, but certainly not always. And really, do you have the time and interest in acquiring in-depth knowledge as to how every medication that you take functions to improve your health? You know that it works and that’s good enough, right? Doc may not know exactly how it works—and perhaps you find that a bit disturbing—but do you let that stop you from receiving relief?

Many Reiki studies have and continue to be conducted and the popularity of Reiki is growing, which means that many people are coming away with positive experiences—including me! I don’t know how Reiki works, but I know what I’ve experienced. I have entered treatment sessions sometimes with significant pain and generally left with significantly less and often no pain. I have felt unexpected bodily sensations—usually some combination of heat and an indescribable pulse-type stirring—during treatments that challenge my understanding of how the world works. I don’t know how Reiki brings about its results, but I do know that, in addition to having found my pain and stress reduced during Reiki treatments, I am also healthier for having received them.

The words of the Zen master echo in our pain: “You can have everything that you want in life, as long as you don’t care what form it takes.” Will you let theory stand in the way of what you want most? Are explanations really more important to you than results? How are you feeling physically and emotionally today? Why wait around in pain for a satisfying theory when what you need is relief and vibrancy? When you’re ready to start feeling better, there’s a ripe, delicious tomato waiting for you in the form of Reiki!

¹Smith, Andrew F. (Fall-Winter 1990). “The making of the legend of Robert Gibbon Johnson and the tomato”. New Jersey History (New Jersey Historical Society) 108, 59–74.
²Goodwin, J. S, Goodwin, J. M. (1984). The tomato effect: Rejection of highly efficacious therapies. Journal of the American Medical Association 251, 2387-2390.

Private Assisted Yoga and Contest

See below for contest details!

I am now offering private assisted Yoga at Threshold Wellness!

To celebrate, I am raffling off a copy of Happy Herbivore’s newest book, Happy Herbivore Light & Lean. See below for contest details.

HappyHerbivore_small

I am only mildly embarrassed to admit that I own all four of her books.  Each one is better than the last, so if you’re going to get one, this is the one to get.  Is there a better way to start off the New Year than with a bunch of wonderful, brand new, tasty and healthy plant-based recipes?

To enter, leave a comment below about something that has inspired you.  It can be a moment from your life, a quote, a work of art, anything.  You will not be graded on your level of inspiration or your writing.  Just be authentic!

I will choose the winner randomly at 9PM EST on December 18.  I will let the winner know via email, so please make sure the email you use for your comment is correct.  I will not use your email address to sign you up for my newsletter or any other mailing list.  I will only use it to inform the winner that he/she has won.

Your copy will be sent to you directly to you from the publisher.

How to Develop a Passion for Compassion

When I decided that I was going to write about compassion, my first thought was that I couldn’t believe that I had allowed my blog exist this long without writing about compassion.  My second thought was that I have to get this entry right because compassion is such an important topic.  That’s when I launched into my spiral of self-doubt and second guessing myself to the point of frozen deer-in-headlights-inaction. Generally speaking, I had no compassion for myself.

I taught my Reiki Level 1 class last weekend.  Again, the difficultly we all have with having compassion for ourselves was demonstrated for me.  This is a serious problem.  I’m sure that you’ve heard that old adage, “You need to love yourself before you can love someone else.”  The same goes for compassion and this is true for a couple of reasons.

The first: Without compassion for ourselves, we abuse ourselves to the point of exhaustion with negative self-talk and judgment.  We have learned to navigate this world by teaching ourselves about what not to do in any given situation.  When we do the thing we’ve told ourselves not to do, we come down hard on ourselves.  This is a form of self-preservation, but left unchecked it can easily become a form of self-destruction.  When we exhaust ourselves like this, we have nothing left to give to anyone else.

The second is this yummy¹ quote that I found in The Buddha’s Satori: “Compassion means the elevation of all that exists, including the grass, stones, animals, humans, to buddhahood, to the state of emancipation.”²  The important word here is “all.”  That means everyone.  In case you didn’t get the picture, he included rocks and plants, too.  “All” does not mean “everyone except you.”  The second important word here is “emancipation.”  This implies that no one is free (from suffering) until everyone is free (from suffering).  This is a basic Buddhist idea.  We are all one entity,³ and if any part of that entity is suffering, then we are all suffering.  If you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not just letting yourself down, but you’re letting all of us down.

Hopefully, you’re now sold on the idea that it is important that you have compassion for yourself.  Even so, I know that having an intellectual understanding of something and feeling that thing in your bones is not the same thing.  This is the reason that your life has not been transformed, yet, despite the number of uplifting bumper stickers you have read, lately.

Cultivating long-term compassion for oneself is a difficult and complex issue.  Often, this requires the healing of many, many layers of wounds.  However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have one magical moment of true compassion for yourself.  Having this type of experience will move you much further along the path of self-compassion because you’ll finally see what it looks like.

I can’t tell you how to manufacture this moment, but I can tell you what it contains.  It contains the third person perspective.  This means that you stop experiencing the world as you, and you start experiencing the world as your observer.  This is something that happens naturally with enough meditation, and it is not as outlandish as it sounds.  Most of us have people in our lives that we love unconditionally, flaws and all—friends, family members, pets, etc.  If you can shift your perspective enough to see yourself in the same way that you see them, you will start getting glimpses of what it is like to truly have compassion for yourself.  This is not about self-indulgence.  It’s a balanced mixture that includes love, understanding and acceptance, which opens the door to emancipation—and truly thrive.  This is a balance that only you know because that scale is internal.

I have only fully experienced this while in a meditative state, but those glimpses have informed all of the subsequent conversations I have had with myself.

If getting into a meditative state isn’t for you, you can start by talking to yourself in the way that would be the most soothing to you.  You know yourself well enough, so you know what would make you feel good.  Even if it sounds cheesy, canned and forced, no one else is going to hear it, so why not?

Give it a shot, folks, and don’t be afraid to comment on how it goes!

¹I’m using this word because Rita Fierro taught me how to use this in a non-food context, and I like it.
² Motoyama, H. (n.d.). Buddha’s Satori (1ST edition.). CIHS Press. Page 52.
³ My nit-picky Buddhist scholar boyfriend wants you all to know: “It’s worth at least footnoting that this ‘all one entity’ can be misconstrued. It would be more accurate, in many Buddhist contexts, to say that phenomena are connected in a way where all phenomena can be seen in any one particular phenomenon—yourself, for example—and that in all phenomena any one particular phenomenon (eg, yourself) can be seen. This is the notion that One is All and All is One, which can be seen in lots of Mahayana Buddhist traditions. Therefore, there is a sense in which we are all one entity, but a sense in which we are all separate but interdependent entities.”

Locating and Dissolving Energy Blockages

Last week, I talked about self-care systems in the context of psychology. This week, I’m going to talk about them in the context of subtle energy. In terms of energy, anything that registers emotionally also shows up in our energetic bodies.

You can test this theory out. Sit quietly for a minute and think about about where in your body you feel anger, grief, love, happiness and any other potent and clearly defined emotion. These physical sensations are considered to be a part of your energetic framework.

An energetic blockage works in the same way a scab works on the skin. It forms as a result of some trauma in order to protect us from further damage. Unlike scabs, they don’t always leave once they have outlived their usefulness. These blockages show up in our psychologies as self-care systems, and as stagnant energy in our bodies. This stagnant energy eventually leads to muscle tension or a physical weakness in that area.

If you read last week’s entry, you probably have somewhat of an idea of your self-care systems. Through energy work, you can start to locate and dissolve them. Even if you don’t believe in subtle energy, these exercises can be useful merely as a visualization techniques.

This is a thing that takes practice, but it will reveal itself to you with consistent effort.

Locating Your Own Energy Blockages

  1. Find a quiet place where you can sit undisturbed for several minutes.
  2. Concentrate on your breath until you reach a relaxed state.
  3. Stay alert and become aware of your bodily sensations.
  4. Think about a situation where you personally feel stuck.
  5. Try to turn off the stream of thoughts surrounding that situation; such as, “X, Y and Z are stopping me from doing this,” and tune into your emotions about the situation.
  6. Locate the places where those emotions seem to be residing in your body.
  7. Note the sight, sound, texture or other visceral aspects of these emotions.

Clearing Energy Blockages

Now that you have located your blockages, you can try to clear them. I know you’re thinking, “What? No way!”

I’m here to tell you: Way.

When it comes to energy healing, you are your own best healer.

In many cases, especially if you are new to your subtle energy body, merely acknowledging your emotions will be enough. They will dissipate as soon as you recognize them. The tricky thing here is that you can’t force them to dissipate. Trying to force an emotion to dissipate can cause it to repress itself and move to a place where you can’t consciously access it. Remember, blockages were installed to protect you. They’re programmed to stay in place and protect you forever, even if it’s long after you no longer need protecting.

Instead of forcing an emotion to dissipate, get to know it, learn to accept it, and even love it (it was created to protect you, after all), breath through it, stay focused on it, and something will change.

When you recall your situation, chances are that you are going to be tempted to get stuck on the story of it.  You’ll repeat incidents over and over to yourself and maybe even start daydreaming about how those incidents could have turned out better.  If this happens, it is not a big deal, but recognize that you’re doing a different exercise at the moment and give yourself the space for it.

Once you’ve located your blockages, and you’ve gotten familiar with them, you can try different approaches to working them out:

  1. If you feel the need to move around and mull it over while you’re doing other things, you can do that, too. I often find that while doing light housework, I can simultaneously try to work through blockages. Try to avoid anything that is too stimulating or distracting.
  2. If you are very visual, sometimes it helps to draw while accessing those feelings. Allow yourself free reign on the paper, but stay focused on your feelings.
  3. If you are musical, but having trouble really getting in touch with your emotion, think of a song that exemplifies that feeling. Sing the song yourself, put it on and sing along with the song, or just listen to it.  Allow that to help you get in touch with your emotions. If you’re more of a physical person, try dancing to it (even if it is really sad and slow).
  4. If you are most comfortable with words, try writing about your feelings. Try not to get too sucked into writing about the analytical details of the situation. Focus on your feelings.
  5. If there is something else that you think that may work for you; such as a long walk alone, then do that.

If you’ve reached the point of activity where you can no longer feel your body, then you have gone too far. You can’t locate your blockages if you can’t feel your body.If you find your mind wandering or you keep getting sucked into the story of the situation, recognize that it’s a normal response, and refocus on your emotions.  If you really can’t give up the story, promise yourself that after you’re done with your energy exercise, you will allow yourself time to think about your story.

Give this process time. It may help to put yourself on a schedule where you spend 20 minutes on it a few times a week. If you do this a lot, then you’re going to relieve a lot of blockages. Once these blockages are gone, the results will manifest in your life. They may not necessarily manifest in your life in the ways that you expect, but there will be changes.

Eventually, you’re going to be left with only the more stubborn-hard-to-break blockages. By this time, you’ll be an old pro, and you will have a better idea of how to deal with them. However, there is no end to healing. Even if you get to a point where you recognize that your remaining blockages are too stuck for you to handle on your own, don’t discount the new blockages that will continually emerge merely from the daily grind of living. The earlier you catch them, the easier it is to release them.

Still need help?  Come see me, and I will work on your blockages with you.

In a later post I will talk about how to address those stubborn-hard-to-break blockages.

Self-Care Systems – An Introduction

Have you ever heard of self-care systems? Most people who work in subtle energy have some familiarity with self-care systems because in our experience, they manifest themselves as energetic blockages. In psychology, these are called “self-sabotage,” “limiting beliefs, “conflicting parts,” and “self-care systems.”

According to Daniella Sief’s article in Psychological Perspectives: A Quarterly Journal of Jungian Thought, “The psyche’s internal response to trauma sets up a ‘self-care system’ designed to ensure the person’s survival, but that this defensive system ultimately re-traumatizes the person from within, cutting off life-saving attachments to others and eclipsing all possibilities of true-self living in the real world.”¹

Imagine a little girl wandering near a pool. Her mother sees her, and out of fear, screams at her.

After that, the little girl avoids going near any pool again. That little girl has set up a “self-care system.”

It’s like installing a piece of software on your computer that prevents one particular event from ever happening.

Her mother told her that water is dangerous, and so she automatically installed a behavior to protect herself. Now imagine the little girl as an adult woman. Times have changed, she has learned to swim, and the thing that was dangerous in the past is not as dangerous in the present.

The little girl who once wisely protected herself from drowning in pools is now a grown woman who feels anxious swimming, and never feels totally comfortable on a boat. She even turns down opportunities that will put her near water because of the associated anxiety. We leave self-care systems in place long after they have outlived their usefulness.

This is a part of life. Things happen. We create self-care systems out of love for ourselves and the instinct to survive. They are like over-protective parents that follow us around and don’t want us to do anything that might potentially cause us pain or discomfort.

Maybe we fear public speaking because we’ve been embarrassed in front of a crowd. Maybe we fear commitment because we over-committed ourselves once, and that caused problems. We don’t even have to suffer the consequences ourselves. Merely seeing someone else suffer is enough to make us modify our behavior. As a result, we truncate our lives in unnecessary ways, and we suffer from anxiety.

It’s much easier to see self-care systems in other people than it is to see it in ourselves. Part of the self-care system is to run underneath your personal radar, so you don’t dislodge it and expose yourself to danger. If you are not sure how to identify a self-care system, try looking at situations that seem stuck, or think in terms of it’s other name—self-sabotage.

Think about the people in your life who come to you with the same complaints over and over, yet, nothing seems to change. Maybe one friend doesn’t get along with his spouse, maybe another hates her job, another has a never-ending string of failed relationships, and another has a phobia or habit that he can’t conquer.

They try to fix their situations, but they don’t make any progress. They repeatedly use the same few approaches, and they continually fail.

To identify your own self-care systems, start looking for patterns. It doesn’t have to be a big dramatic thing, like hating your spouse, your job or your life. It can be a simple thing, like weight loss or not getting enough recognition at work.

If there is an area where you have been trying to make progress, but you feel like you are spinning your wheels, then chances are that this is the result of a self-care system. A good way to identify these things is first to identify the place where you are stuck (that’s the easy part), then start to journal, or talk it out with yourself (yes, you can talk to yourself, I won’t tell!).

How do those situations make you feel? How do you feel about the risks involved with making a real change? Where did that start? It may help to think about the advantages of keeping your patterns and the disadvantages of changing them. This will help you be completely honest with yourself and drill down to your self-care system.

Next week, I will be talking about self-care systems in terms of energy blockages, and I will post some subtle energy exercises to help you identify them and remove them. It’s going to be good, so stay tuned!

¹Sieff, Daniella. (2008). Unlocking the Secrets of the Wounded Psyche: Interview with Donald Kalsched. Psychological Perspectives: A Quarterly Journal of Jungian Thought. 51:2, 190-207.

Stress: The Wellness Killer?

At the bottom of this post is a Ted Talk given by Kelly McGonigal.

In the first half, McGonigal talks about a study that was done on stress. This study found a correlation between stress related death and the belief that stress is bad for you. The conclusion is that stress itself is not unhealthy. It is the belief that stress is unhealthy that is unhealthy. People who believed stress is helpful did not suffer from stress related death.

McGonigal then goes on to tell us about another study that showed that training people to believe that stress is helpful made it possible for those people to cope with stress better and this improved their survival rate. While she offers some compelling evidence and some amazing solutions, I’d like to discuss stress from another angle.

I don’t know about you, but no one needed to tell me that stress is unhealthy. Long before I had heard the words “stress” and “anxiety” I knew that how I felt in certain situations was not healthy. I didn’t need to hear, “the thing you are experiencing is stress and it’s a bad for you.” I already knew.

Maybe some people believe stress is unhealthy is because that their life experience has taught them that stress is unhealthy for them. Likewise, maybe some people believe that stress is helpful because it has been helpful for them. Like I mentioned in a previous post, one of the problems with clinical studies is that they often don’t account for individual differences. While generalizations can be helpful, when we’re trying to figure out how to navigate this (stressful) world, generalizations can really put some limiting beliefs on us as individuals.

If you can’t start with generalizations, then where can you start?

The conglomeration that makes up you is the most powerful problem solving entity that human kind has ever seen. You are at the helm of something that is designed to solve problems—not just one or two kinds problems either, all kinds of problems.

Think about it this way: When your body needs food, it tells you. When your brain needs sleep, it tells you. When you very quickly need to get out of the way of a speeding vehicle, that happens before you’ve even realized what has happened. When your body needs to stop and make repairs, it gives you pain to force you to stop and make repairs. I’m venturing to guess that when you in a situation that is causing you unhealthy stress, you have a mechanism that tells you that, too.  After all, not every situation can be solved by being able to run faster, yell louder or think on your feet.  When that happens, what do you do with all of that extra ability?  Try to shut it down?  Ignore it?  Say to yourself, “Stress is really awesome because even though I’m standing in this long-ass line at the bank, I am totally prepared for a robbery.”

I’m venturing to guess that you can identify the times in your life when you have experienced stress in a good way, too. That is the kind of stressful situation where your stress can be put to use.  It helps you rise to a challenge. It helps you find your loud voice when you need to yell. It helps you run faster when you’re getting out of the way of that speeding vehicle. It helps you stay up all night and get a report done that is due the next morning.

Does it make sense to put all stress into one box labeled “healthy” or “unhealthy?”

Here’s an analogy: Imagine that the major stressor in your life (be it your job or a relationship) is a hot stove and the stress you feel is the pain of leaving your hand on the surface of that hot stove.

You notice the searing pain, but you also notice that everyone else is holding their hand to the surface of the stove, too. As a matter of fact, everyone is telling you that hot stoves are great, and there’s nothing better than having your hand burnt by a hot stove. It may suck now, but the rewards in the future will be amazing! Stick with it and like everyone else, you’ll get the rewards that you are due. You desperately want to pull your hand away, but now you’re committed to this stove thing, and you’re worried about what people will think if you stop. You start injecting a numbing agent into your red, blistered, blackened flesh and start training yourself to believe that the pain is a good thing. As a matter of fact, you and all of the other stove people have developed a nightly ritual of injecting a numbing agent into your hands so you can get through the next day.

You probably get the picture. Sure, convincing yourself that the pain is good for you is great for your heart health, but what about your hand health? What about that mechanism that is telling you that you are in a bad situation and that you need to get out of it?

You can’t necessarily use the behavior of others as a guide. In my experience, some people have hands that are built for hot stove tops and some people don’t. For example, I used to work a regular 9-5 job and most of my coworkers were pretty satisfied with that, but I wasn’t.  It doesn’t make sense to hold every person to the same standard.  I guess we can say one person’s hot stove is another person’s pleasantly warm pillow.

One of the other things that I have noticed about this analogy is that causing yourself suffering in order to gain some promised reward in the future is an incredible act of faith. If we must commit daily acts of faith, we probably want to be really careful about exactly where we choose to put that faith.

McGonigal’s talk is certainly very helpful, and it’s a great reminder that our stress mechanism is designed to help us. However, stress doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s usually caused by some circumstance, and feeling bad is designed to help us, too.

It’s up to us to recognize our personal patterns of stress. Where do you easily rise to the occasion and where do you usually shut-down and flounder?  In which situations does it make sense to think of stress as helping you, and in which situations does it make sense to use that stress to move yourself into a situation in which you’ll blossom?  You know, that place where your stress becomes your joy.

If you have a hot stove in your life, figure out how you can get your hand off of it.