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The Path of Least Resistance

Higher Practice

“I am a lover of what is, not because I’m a spiritual person, but because it hurts when I argue with reality.” —Byron Katie

 

I often find that while working with clients who struggle with anxiety or depression, and other mental health challenges, those who do find greater peace and ease are usually the clients who have fully accepted their current reality as the pathway health.

A very common experience amongst clients who seek therapy is the realization that it is only by giving up resistance to their current situation—even one that deeply drains them both emotionally and physically—that they can arrive at a place of healing and sustained well-being.

Perhaps you have felt anxious going to work everyday, or depressed and isolated in an intimate relationship. Have you begun to look at your current situation through the lens of what you are lacking? Do you afford yourself the compassion to view your situation through a broader lens—seeing each piece of your life as one that fits into a much larger whole?

Clients often beat themselves up for not changing fast enough; they recognize the places in their lives where they get stuck, but they do not recognize the areas in which they are making great effort and changing. The more they resist their current situation, the more exhaustion and sense of failure they feel.

When we look at our current situation—our relationships, our mental and physical health—with compassion and patience, we can tell ourselves, ‘Okay, this is my experience at the moment. What are the steps I will take to work with that?’ It is at this point that we can begin to objectively assess the stories we tell ourselves, discerning where it is that we cut ourselves short or do not push enough, and how to move forward in ways that inspire and revitalize us.

In practicing this level of acceptance you will discover how certain patterns are no longer serving you. Intimately knowing how we relate to ourselves and others sheds light on how we show up in all areas of our lives. You can discover the areas of your life where you disconnect.

By freshly accepting the place where we are starting each day, we come into direct relationship with our own emotions more clearly and compassionately. We can be honest with ourselves.
 

It is so easy to resist our current reality if we don’t like what we see. We want to push back against feelings of depression and anxiety, inadvertently becoming the victim in our own life. When we accept what is truly happening in the present and choose to be in direct relationship with that truth, we access a sense of empowerment rather than passivity or defeat. This is the key to breaking the cycle. This is when deep healing takes place.
 

When we acknowledge what is really happening in this moment, we might discover creative strategies and solutions that move us forward.

How to Ally With Your Mind In a Way You Would Least Expect

Higher Practice

Do you recall as a child, the ease and joy of lying still in the grass as you watched a ladybug skirt across your arm?

Noticing with intent curiosity the sensation on your body as its legs crossed over your skin? Did you notice how pleasurable this felt, this sheer act of paying attention?

Mindfulness, such as maintaining awareness of the sensations of a ladybug on your skin—not only alerts you to the pleasure of a delicate ladybug, but it also trains the mind to focus and develop a sense of stability and strength.

Complete absorption in physical sensations—often so ordinary—allow us to drop from our perpetual thoughts, judgements, fantasies and criticisms, into the sanity and wisdom of our body.

AS A PRACTITIONER OF BODY-CENTERED PSYCHOTHERAPY I AM INSPIRED BY THE MESSAGES OUR BODY HOLDS DEEP IN ITS CELLS.

As we bring attention to sensations in our body—whether it’s a knot in our stomach or the feeling of a light breeze on our skin—we come into more authentic contact with what is true about our experience. We discover that we are not separate from our anger—I might notice, for instance, that anger is a part of who I am, and therefore I must tend to my anger as I would tend to my younger brother or sister, with love and care.

If we treat our emotions as something we must fight, or destroy, we disconnect from our bodies, stew in our thoughts and continually cause more suffering for ourselves. If you cannot be compassionate to yourself, you will not be able to be compassionate to others.

So, what is mindfulness of the body?

Mindfulness of the body is a practice that allows you to see the truth of your current experience—when you are mindful of sensations in the body, you begin to look at things deeply, understanding their true nature so that you are not misled into the confusion of the mind and its sophisticated web of suffering.

Mindfulness is the ability to maintain a gentle yet sustained inward focus of attention. It is the ability to notice, with heightened sensitivity, all that enters your consciousness.

MINDFULNESS OF THE BODY IS ONE OF YOUR GREATEST RESOURCES FOR ACHIEVING HEALTH, HAPPINESS AND FULFILLMENT ACCORDING TO ANCIENT WISDOM TRADITIONS.

So, why is the body so important in this practice?

Our body is where formative memories and beliefs are stored—it is the felt experience of the body that gives you access to this material. Total mindfulness means being completely in tune, being “one with” all of this.

By honestly and clearly attuning with your body--not separating your thinking mind from your sensing experience--you’re able to unwind material from the past that no longer serves you in order to lead a life of more passion and fulfillment. If you are listening closely to the messages your body speaks to you, you begin to discover a sense of purpose and belonging.

LIVING A PASSIONATE AND PURPOSEFUL LIFE REQUIRES ATTENTION AND PRESENCE.

By developing the capacity to continually return your awareness to the present moment—through sensations in the body and by following the breath—the mind is drawn back to itself in a positive way. You will begin to trust this process of returning to yourself over and over again. Before you know it, your mind and body will be in unison and your mind will finally become your greatest ally.

When you are completely in tune and in harmony with your mind, it becomes a relief and a joy to simply be alive. 

How Massage Can Help With Anxiety

Scott Lilleston

Can you recall the last time someone lovingly touched you? Perhaps it was a snuggle from your child before bed, a hug from your partner or even a simple handshake with a good friend.

How did this contact make you feel? What happened to your heart rate? To the pace of your breathing? Your energy level?

Throughout my many years as a massage therapist, I have witnessed countless examples of how the healing power of touch can leave a lasting positive impact on clients' nervous systems. I have also learned that the calming benefit of massage paired with a set of well-honed skills in gentle interventions is invaluable!

Massage affects more aspects of our mental and physical health than most people imagine. For example: when stress is elevated, it is felt by the body. In particular, our nervous systems will tend to stay in a hyper-aroused state. There is a residual effect on many other systems of the body as well that manifests as the physical symptoms of anxiety.

Massage calms the nervous system when it is stuck in a hyper-aroused state from stimuli and other triggers in our life. With massage, touch often gives the experience of  being “grounding”. Through touch, we return to our body, feeling grounded in the moment and allowing for a wider spectrum of feeling and sensation to flood our experience.

When you alleviate the physical patterns of anxiety through touch, you will find that your body returns to a state of balance and ease, and away from the constant fight or flight response we are all so accustomed to, particularly in this culture.

Massage provides a safe and nurturing opportunity for individuals to relax, refocus and find more clarity. It is a way of settling back into the body.


We can then explore the patterns that disrupt harmony and balance, and collaboratively work to minimize the unnatural state of heightened anxiety that is all too familiar to most people. With anxiety out of the way, imagine the possibilities of health, healing and inspiration!

Chronic Pain Management: Gaining Relief with Massage

Higher Practice

Have you been putting your life on hold because of chronic pain and discomfort?

A practical solution is literally just a touch away.

Clinical evidence demonstrates that massage is one of the most effective treatments in a holistic care plan for chronic pain.

This is good news for the 8 out of 10 Americans who suffer from some form of chronic pain on a daily basis. While we all experience physical pain at some point in our lives, most cases are temporary. Chronic pain, however, is the debilitating pain that lasts for long periods of time, often for weeks, months, or even years.

Chronic pain may have snuck up on you from the usual wear and tear that happens to our muscles and joints over time, or from years of slouching over your computer and sitting in your car in traffic.

When we consider the inseparability of the mind and body, which you can read about in my other blog posts on mindfulness, there is no doubt that a body that is free from excess tension and pain leads to improved mental and physical wellbeing.

As a therapist who works in the worlds of body-centered psychotherapy and separately in the world of therapeutic massage and bodywork, I am keenly aware of the emotional challenges that find their way towards manifesting in the body.

After many years of practicing therapeutic bodywork modalities, I’ve discovered that massage alone isn’t the entire equation to gaining lasting relief. There is another component to massage that is needed for it to have lasting effects for the majority of people.

When utilizing massage as an approach to chronic pain, I prioritize helping my clients bring awareness to their bodies in the form of sensation and feelings. By helping clients begin to cultivate body-awareness in the present, I find that clients are well on their way to learning how to navigate chronic pain in entirely new ways.

It's as if they are creating a new operating system for their mind that allows them to return to a fulfilled life even with extreme sensations in the body.

Here are just a few ways we can begin to create change in chronic pain patterns:

Release tension

When we are in pain, our bodies cause tension in our muscles to protect the area that hurts. For an instant, this can be an effective means to retract our body from a dangerous stimuli. However, this tension often remains in our body even after our environment is fully safe and secure. When our muscles stay contracted we limit the body’s natural range of mobility, which exacerbates pain. While there are many other aspects of chronic tension and pain that we will work with, massage facilitates muscle length and relaxation which are important aspects of pain relief from a manual perspective.

Improving movement improves pain cycles

As noted above, an injury often results in a limited range of motion. Perhaps you have found it difficult to perform basic tasks such as walking up and down stairs. Deep tissue work including myofascial therapy targets tension trapped deep within the fascia, the body’s connective tissues. When we live with tension trapped in our body, the default is to move in unnatural patterns that intensify pain. Working with, understanding and minimizing this tension in the body is important for healthy fascia, decreasing pain and proper mobility.

Feel more vitality and energy

Receiving a massage increases the endorphins in our body, the “feel good” chemicals that elevate mood and relieve pain. Receiving a massage triggers physiological responses that tell the body it is safe, thus lowering blood pressure, reducing cortisol levels, and raising endorphins. With massage, you gain amazing physiological benefits that are vital to feeling joyful, rested, and energized throughout the day.

As you can see, massage is not just a luxurious day at the spa, although it has that benefit too. Massage allows you to live and move with less discomfort, more energy, and ultimately a greater sense of who you are and what you want to accomplish in life.

In the Temple of Your Own Backyard

Higher Practice

Many of us are familiar with temples as places of quiet, worship, and transcendence. These sacred spaces, found in all cultures and faiths throughout the world—more ancient than recorded history—are essential to the human experience for good reason. Even for those of us who grew up without a particular faith tradition or experience of attending temple or church know that the essence of the temple is stillness.

The temple invites us to cast off the busyness of our ego so that we can access a much deeper and quieter inner voice.

Mary Oliver speaks to this seemingly radical experience of stillness in her poem, Today:

“Today I’m flying low and I’m / not saying a word / I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep. /  The world goes on as it must, / the bees in the garden rumbling a little, / the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten. / And so forth. / But I’m taking the day off. / Quiet as a feather. / I hardly move though really I’m traveling / a terrific distance. / Stillness. One of the doors / into the temple.”

Nature is a doorway into the temple of our own Self. By spending time in nature—whether it is a park, deep in the wilderness of the Rockies, or our own backyard and garden—we allow ourselves the opportunity for quiet reflection just as people have done in physical temples for thousands of years.

Observing plants and the movement of critters, listening to the tune of a birdsong or low hum of insects, paying attention to the colors of a sunset... evoke a sense of stillness in our body, heart and mind. In stillness we return to our Self.

Time in nature beckons a natural state of mindfulness and attention to subtlety. Without technology, other people, and the demands of keeping up with all that we are balancing, we discover how simple and natural it is to drop into a state of profound attention to our internal landscape. As the chatter and noise of the world hushes we become aware of the dialogue unfolding in our own mind.

Drawing upon mindfulness in nature is a powerful marriage of two deeply healing practices.

If you have never experienced nature as a temple for self-discovery, I highly encourage you to begin with a simple five-minute exercise of “seeing” or “hearing” in order to become more in tune with your surroundings. By bringing awareness to your breath, the sensation of the sun, the breeze on your skin, and the sound of birdsong, you you might notice how the mind wants to interpret, become critical and make judgments. Notice how it begins to categorize and criticize elements of the present moment. When you continue to bring your attention to the patterns, shapes, colors, sounds, and movements just as they are, notice your tendency to label things, removing you from the immediacy of the present.

As you do this practice over and over, you will find that you can become more comfortable resting in the present where you can fully receive the natural world around you. In this space, you will begin to discover a reality that was previously hidden and more of who you truly are.

As Dorothy says in The Wizard of Oz: “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

Is It a Physical Issue or Are You Just Anxious? Using Mindfulness to Overcome Anxiety

Higher Practice

We often don’t realize that our body has been whispering (or perhaps shouting) clues to us all along. Caught up in our busy lives, we notice physical symptoms crop up that we commonly try to fix with medication. In a hurry to move on with our lives, we don’t always take the time to get to the root of the problem.

For example, you might realize that after months of pain in your right shoulder, your entire body has become incredibly tense, sending the message that you need to slow down. You might discover that your digestive issues that you spent a fortune trying to heal with probiotics and medication, were warning signals from your intelligent body that you need to attend to something else in your life.

Physical ailments such as these are just a couple examples of hundreds of conditions that people suffer from on a daily basis.

Overtime, many of these ailments actually fall under one of the single largest health issue our society faces. It’s commonly referred to as an anxiety disorder and it affects nearly 40 million US adults, which is about 18% of the population.

This number is too large to ignore and those who suffer from its unreasonable and spiraling nature know that anxiety is more than being nervous or edgy. Anxiety has a myriad of physical symptoms. It can be a rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, digestive problems, tensions in the body, difficulty breathing to name just a few.

There is a way to overcome this pandemic. If you have been proactive in your healing journey, and ruled out other sources of your physical problems, it’s important to be able to acknowledge that you may have been suffering from a form of anxiety the entire time. Once you are able to recognize that this might be at the root of your symptoms, try looking at how your bodily sensations, thoughts, emotions, and storylines have contributed to this problem in an interconnected web.

Often, as we begin to develop a relationship to ourselves in this way we come to discover certain thought patterns and behaviors that we have carried with us for years, maybe decades, that have perpetuated underlying fears, pain, and other intense emotions. This leads to physical symptoms in the body, and, ultimately, an overall feeling of anxiety or impeding doom.

To tackle anxiety at the core, we must face all the gritty feelings and sensations that we have ignored. This is where the practice of mindfulness comes in as one of the most effective treatments for anxiety. As a practitioner of the Hakomi method, a body-centered psychotherapeutic technique, I believe that the body is a reservoir of information and stored experience that can shed light on how to move forward in the present.

When you are caught in the middle of it, anxiety feels anything but good or helpful. It is likely anywhere from frustrating to intrusive to downright terrifying. Yet, anxiety has much to teach us. If we ask ourselves the right questions during moments of intense anxiety, we might discover some much needed answers.

The questions to ask yourself are: “Where do I feel the anxiety in my body?” and “What sensations, specifically, am I experiencing in this moment?”

Mindfulness as an antidote to anxiety requires remaining present to fully experiencing the symptoms of tension in the body. We might begin to notice how we attach meaning to these sensations, believing that our negative and reactive thoughts are the truth.

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, fully facing the thoughts and sensations we associate with anxiety enables us to overcome and let go of what we are truly afraid of. Mindfulness is a training practice for the mind—as you become increasingly more confident in your ability to track sensations in your body and not getting jarred by anxiety in the same way, you will discover an incredible tolerance for disruptive thoughts.

By not responding to a sense of threat that doesn’t typically even exist, we break the cycle, and eventually overcome the chronic state of anxiety.

In other words, by accepting the uncertainty and confronting what’s actually bothering you, an entire world of possibility opens that is free from unnecessary suffering and self-imposed limitations. All you have to do is decide to do it differently. Mindfully.