Tag Archives: peace of mind

Yoga Nidra: How to relax when you’re too stressed to meditate

Hi everyone,

I haven’t posted here in a while but now I am feeling inspired again!

I wanted to share with you a technique that helps me relax even when I am too stressed to sit still and meditate. I suppose you know the feeling you get when you have overworked, overstressed and/or had too much coffee and the gap between your current state of mind and sanity just seems to big to cross.

In these situations, I like to do Yoga Nidra, which consists of lying on your back, breathing and focussing on one body part at a time. It sounds simple but the effect is unbelievable. It makes me feel more relaxed almost instantly, and the day after practicing has a somehow magic and detached feeling to it. It’s perfect for people with very active minds that tend to drive them crazy.

I highly recommend this Yoga Nidra guided meditation that I have used many times because the instructor’s voice is so beautiful and relaxing:

(If the video doesn’t show, find it here.)

This meditation was created by the people at Blooming Lotus Yoga and you can find even more audios over at their website.

It took me some time to complete the full guided meditation without falling asleep – that’s how relaxing it is! Try it and let me know how you feel afterwards! And feel free to post links to other great Yoga Nidra resources and audios if you know any!

Thanks for reading and take care,

Julia
 
 

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Compassion always works

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***I haven’t blogged for a while, but here’s something that has helped me SO MUCH with releasing old wounds and patterns and has improved my well-being and relationships that I think you should know about it, too:***
 
Here’s something that everyone should know: When you feel emotional pain, the most effective and fail-safe way to release it is to have compassion for yourself. This is a technique you need to practice in order to master it, but it is so worth it!

Here’s how to do this:

1. When you suffer emotionally, imagine that this pain is a part of you that has been hurt. Imagine this part as a child (= yourself), at whatever age comes to you. This child is suffering for some reason. Let it express what it feels: “I am …”, “I feel…”.

2. Do these feelings seem familiar from a situation in your past? When was the first time you experienced these emotions?

3. Ask it what it needs. Ask it what it desires.

4. Then simply be with it and transmit the feeling that the child’s emotions and thoughts are completely understandable, that it has every right to have them. Try to look at the child compassionately. You can’t fake this, but if you can’t do it at first (maybe because no one has ever had compassion for you), just looking at the child with a neutral feeling will work, too.

If you feel angry or impatient that you can’t do this, have compassion for the angry and impatient part of yourself. When you are scared, bored, whatever, have compassion for those parts of yourself, first.

If you find it difficult to do this, you can also imagine your emotional pain to be an animal – whichever animal works for you. Can you have compassion for the frightened horse, the angry dog, etc.? Or can you feel understanding for it, or at least look at it neutrally?

You can also ask for help from whatever higher power you believe in, or if you don’t believe in any, just ask nature (or the tree outside your house, or the potted plant in your room;) to help you. This practice is in fact easier when you are outdoors in nature, because there’s an energy in nature that makes it easy to believe that the trees, river, plants etc are looking at your compassionately (or neutrally, but they certainly don’t judge you) – this may also be helpful.

When you find the right approach for you and practice for a while, you will find that the pain is released and you feel a lot better, and/or you’ll have uncovered more layers of emotions (= more work). You don’t have to do all of the above; just pick what you feel most comfortable with.

Compassion is a skill that you can practice. It is very important that you have compassion for yourself first, because you will only feel resentful towards others when you give them your compassion but deny it to yourself. Eventually though, you will find yourself feeling compassion for others as a consequence of this practice.

Although this is very basic stuff, it’s counter-intuitive and I certainly didn’t come up with it myself. Credit goes to authors and coaches Martha Beck, Katja Sundermeier (who wrote an excellent book about this in German), Tosha Silver, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, but also to myself for working so hard to learn this.

The next time you are in pain, or shit happens (and it seems to happen a lot), you have an opportunity to practice this. I hope you do, as it is one of the most important and life-changing skills one can have.

Thanks for reading! If you have questions or remarks about this, comment away below!


Photo credit: “Scott Adams Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end” by BK. Creative Commons license: CC BY-SA 2.0. No changes were made to the photo.
 
 

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Shaking off stress and trauma, literally (looks like exorcism, but is fun)

I am always trying to find new ways of helping myself, and this time I have discovered probably the weirdest but most fabulous self-help method you have ever heard of. It’s called TRE, or “Tension & Trauma Release Exercises” and was developed by David Berceli, Ph.D. It may look like exorcism because it involves a lot of uncontrollable shaking, but read on:

TRE is a simple technique that uses exercises to release stress or tension from the body that accumulate from every day circumstances of life, from difficult situations, immediate or prolonged stressful situations, or traumatic life experiences (i.e., natural disasters, social or domestic violence). TRE is a set of six exercises that help to release deep tension from the body by evoking a self-controlled muscular shaking process in the body called neurogenic muscle tremors.

(Taken from the TRE website)

To put it more simply: You do a series of physical exercises that cause your body to tremble and shake, sometimes mildly, sometimes wildly. It’s not you who does the shaking, it’s your body. This makes this technique so fascinating to me – when I do the last TRE exercise which you do lying down, my hips sometimes shake so intensely that it feels like driving on a pot-holed road or dancing samba involuntarily. (I watched some videos on YouTube about TRE and saw that people in TRE workshops shake all over their bodies, which I haven’t experienced yet.)

Snowy Owl, shaking off stress (?)

Snowy Owl, shaking off stress (?)


What I find most fascinating is that developed this method from the knowledge that mammals have a natural way of releasing trauma and tension by letting their bodies shake after a stressful event, and that humans must have this mechanism, too. This means that humans don’t actually have to suffer from the consequences of trauma and stress for the rest of their lives, but that we are born with a natural physical process that helps us get over trauma. In his book (see below), Berceli writes that during an attack in one of the war zones he lived in, he noticed that the children around him were shaking all over, while the adults weren’t. They later admitted they had suppressed the shaking in order not to let the children know they were afraid and scare them evon more. He concludes that we are socialized out of letting the natural shaking mechanism happen.
 

2 and 1/2 weeks of TRE: My personal experience

I had read and watched some fantastic testimonials about TRE by people who had been scarred by war, either as army veterans or civilians, and reported almost immediate relief, so I hoped that it would be the “magic cure” for me, as well. It wasn’t quite like that, but still worth it. Here’s my conclusion after two and a half weeks of guinea-pigging myself with TRE:

I feel much lighter in my hips and legs, and I can move much more smoothly, flexibly and beautifully. During the first week of TRE I also took part in a dance workshop and noticed these improvements in my moving every day. Once or twice, I felt also happy and relieved emotionally after a session, but mostly it was just a physical experience, so that on a few days, I felt bored and actually read or watched TV while I let my body do its thing!

The week after, I noticed feeling more volatile than usual. I was also frustrated that the shaking wasn’t reaching my chest and throat, where I have felt a heavy weight for years, in connection with feelings of hopelessness, life being pointless, and all my efforts, my life and the world going down the drain. This stayed the same, while my lower body became lighter and “smoother”, which was a very strange mix of sensations.

In the last few days, I tried relaxing more and allowing the shaking to come into my upper body. Relaxing my muscles and breathing deeply helped, so that yesterday I suddenly felt like it was okay and safe to let go of control over my body, and a sensation of well-being arose. When I woke up today, I was simply content, with a warm feeling inside my chest. I enjoyed watching the wind move the trees and grass, and for once I didn’t feel pessimistic or slightly depressed. It wasn’t a great euphoria, but simply a good feeling, and I thought: This is so wonderful. Money can’t buy this. And: I’m looking forward to my next TRE session! Yippee!

David Berceli has developed this method to help masses of people affected by traumatic events like war or natural catastrophes who don’t have the means to seek psychotherapy. It’s being used more and more widely by individuals with other types of trauma and stress, too, and the greatest thing about it is that it’s quite simple, you can learn it from a book and do it by yourself without professional help. It’s worth a try, don’t you think?

The book: You can find the TRE exercises in the book “The Revolutionary Traume Release Process: Transcend Your Toughest Times” by David Berceli. (Paperback and kindle versions available)

The website: www.traumaprevention.com

Photo credit:
“Shake a Tail Feather” by Ingrid Taylar. CC license CC BY 2.0. No changes were made to the photo.
 
 

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Couch potato, eating unhealthy and wondering why you’re miserable?

There’s a form of self-sabotage that makes all efforts at happiness (like energy work, self help, spirituality) only half as powerful as they could be, and it is (ta-daaa!):

Eating unhealthy &
Being a couch potato

 
The „great discovery“ I have made in the past few years (obvious as it might be to others) is that the fuel (food and drink) I put into my body and how much and well I move it are decisive factors to whether I feel content and happy or stressed and depressed – so much so that I keep wondering whether my so-called personality isn’t at least 50% determined by nutritional and sports habits.

I can’t force you or my clients to eat healthy and work out, but I really think it would make a big and positive difference with regards to happiness and health. Unfortunately, you have to be disciplined enough to actually do it to feel the results. I arrived at that point by trying and failing so often that I got frustrated and finally pulled it through. But you can also JUST DO IT. :)
 

Fun experiments with mental health and food

 
In my case, the inner turmoil I spent many years of my life in led me to try all kinds of ways to help myself get out of this black hole and feel better. Apart from energy healing, I experimented with nutrition and sports and their effects on my emotional health.

If you, too, have a natural (?) tendency to feel miserable, you might find the results of my nutritional and athletic experiments over the last few years useful. Here they are:

Eating only fruits, vegetables and nuts + no sports: I felt much healthier, I stopped getting colds all the time. I was also always hungry and never felt satisfied, even though I ate all the time. It’s very impractical to have to eat all the time if you want to have a life.

Eating only fruits, vegetables and nuts + strength training 4 to 5 times a week: Forget it. When trying this, I felt physically and mentally weak, couldn’t motivate myself to train and was further demotivated my my decreasing strength. However, it might be possible to eat like this and do endurance sports, I haven’t tried.

Eating whatever I wanted, including pizza, pasta, sweets, alcohol, etc. etc., and none of it in moderation + no sports OR running up to three times a week: Emotionally, I felt moody, irritable and depressed, sad, hopeless, angry.

Physically, I was weak, more overweight than now (I still am slightly overweight), I started sweating even after walking up a flight of stairs, and I had cravings all the time, even when I wasn’t hungry. I needed lots of sleep but still woke up feeling tired and heavy. I only felt good after running, but not so good most of the time.

Paleo + strength training (gymnastics) five times a week: If you don’t know Paleo, google it, but look for a introductory site or you’ll be more confused than you were before. In short, Paleo means eating meat, fish, vegetables, nuts, some fruit. You don’t eat junk food, anything containing grains (processed and unprocessed), sugar, most dairy.

Paleo and gymnastics (not that I’m good at it!) is what works for me. It’s not the only thing I need to be happy, but it’s a damn good start. Without those two things, my happiness is built on sand. They make me feel energized, I get up easily most mornings, I keep seeing improvements with my workout, and look better. Hardly any cravings, and no post-meal depression (which I get after eating a pizza, unfortunately…) Also, after switching to Paleo I found that my mind became clearer and more focussed, as if a veil had been lifted off it.
 

But.. what about pizza, pasta, cheese (yummmmmmy), tiramisu, tarts, cakes, cookies, pudding, bread (!), falafel, and all the other wonderful things in the world’s cuisines that I still want to try?

 

Dear tiramisu, I love you and promise to eat you again one day! Yours, Julia

Dear tiramisu, I love you and promise to eat you again one day! Yours, Julia


I know! The thought of never eating pizza again is a mix of horrible and ridiculous to me, so I don’t even try. I want to enjoy my life after all, and good food is part of it!

However, I know I have to pay the price for eating all the above foods, and through trial and error I have noticed that eating the foods I want every day doesn’t equal enjoyment of life. When I do this, I only enjoy life while eating, but not afterwards, because of the physical and emotional effects of it. Therefore, next time I eat pizza, I’ll do it in a way that is really enjoyable to me, with someone I like in an Italian restaurant, and some good wine, so it really pays off.
 

But I don’t feel bad after eating junk food!

 
Good! I have no idea if everyone gets mood swings depending on what they eat. If I didn’t, I’d eat pizza and custard tarts and drink port wine every day! You have probably wasted your time reading this article.
 

I also don’t feel weaker or less fit when I eat whatever I want!

 
Cool! But, two things: 1) How old are you? In my early twenties, I could put junk food and alcohol in my body and it still did what I wanted it to do. Just wait and see! *evil grin* 2) It’s easy to assume that what you eat and drink doesn’t affect you if you don’t actually do strength training and see how weak and pathetic you really are. :) (And I don’t mean this in a mean way. I’m also weak and pathetic, just not as much as before…)

That said, Paleo plus sports certainly isn’t the right thing for everyone and certainly not a cure-all, but there are obviously better and worse options for keeping yourself sane and healthy, and I’d like to know yours! Have you experimented with nutrition and sports and their effects on your psyche and body? Tell me and the others your results in the comments! :)


Photo credit: “Tiramisu, instead of birthday cake” by Adventures of Pam & Frank, CC license CC BY 2.0 No changes were made to the photo.
 
 

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One week into practicing mindfulness: It works.

Remember the Bell of Mindfulness (a browser plugin that regularly chimes a bell to remind you to breathe mindfully) I wrote about last week? Some of you tried it and found it helpful, and so did I.

It’s surprising how much such a tiny bit of mindfulness practice can do, and also how easy or how hard this practice can sometimes be. Here’s how I did in my first week of (attempted) mindfulness since my childhood:
 
I have caught a glimpse of what mindfulness is. The mindfulness bell I set to chime every 15 minutes, so I used it a lot during my many hours in front of my computer. The first few days after discovering it, it was easier to breathe mindfully every time the bell chimed. Then I started to find it annoying and caught myself ignoring it, feeling stressed and unwilling to stop whatever I was doing for even a few seconds. Realizing the craziness of this perceived lack of time (“I can’t spare three seconds just for doing nothing and breathing!! I have stuff to do!!”), I got on with it.
 
Even this very imperfect practice has brought me benefits. Important to remember for the perfectionist in me & you!
(Something else that helped: 1) Watching some talks by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who teaches people mindfulness and the practical steps to inner peace and becoming a source of peace for others. 2) Putting “time in nature” in my schedule every day and sticking to it most days. No more suffering from “nature deprivation”.)
 
 

Hunger for silence

Already after the first day of trying mindful breathing and mindful eating (meaning, just eating, without reading or surfing the internet), I felt a hunger for the silence I experience when I am in the present moment. I sat down and meditated, just because I wanted to and felt the inner need for it. I can’t empty my mind of thoughts or anything – I just sit in silence, which feels wonderful.
I also voluntarily continued eating some of my meals in silence – very out of character for me!
 
 

Everyday last week, I have experienced some moments of peace, freedom, quiet joy.

Sometimes when standing in a park, just listening to and looking at the plants and animals around me. Sometimes in meditation. This peace and silence made up maybe 5 to 10 percent of my experience. The rest was: being stressed from drinking too much coffee, or from drinking coffee and green tea at the same time (great idea…), overwork, too much time spent in my small flat, numbing myself with music, internet, food. The usual.
 
But I am so happy I discovered this, and that it works so well and quickly! If you’re interested in giving mindfulness a try, here are three very simple and practical actions/ideas that I found supremely useful in my beginner’s mindfulness practice:
 
The practice of stopping: Thich Nhat Hanh mentioned in a talk that the practice of stopping is a big part of mindfulness. It brings us back in the here and now. I did this very literally and just stopped moving and even breathing (yes, I’m a bit of an extremist) sometimes during the day, just observing what was going on around me. When I did this, I imagined stepping into my own body – my mind is usually two steps ahead of me, always rushing to get to the next place, task, distraction. So stopping caused my mind and body to be in the same place for a few seconds – in the here and now. When I did this, I had some wonderful moments of peace. They didn’t last long, but they made me so happy! :)
 
A variation on mindful breathing: In mindful breathing, you focus on your breath. However, following my own breath is about the most boring thing there is; I can hardly stand it, and my mind wanders off immediately. So instead I focussed on the split second between my outbreath and inbreath, and imagined sinking deep into my body in that short moment of not breathing, surrendering (to the moment, the energy that is everywhere, life, whatever you prefer). (This tip I got from a teleclass done by Dr. Lissa Rankin and Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen.)
 
“Selective watering”: This one is also from Thich Nhat Hanh. He says your happiness depends entirely on the seeds you have in your mind, and how strong or weak they are: the seed of mindfulness, the seed of love, the seed of anger, of fear, etc. Your mind is your garden and if you keep watering the seeds of violence by watching violent movies etc., that violence will grow in you. On the other hand, if you practice mindfulness (and you needn’t even take extra time to do so), you become more peaceful inside and are able to handle your emotions better. He says this method of “selective watering of the seeds”, as he calls it, brings effects very quickly, and that finding inner peace and joy through this is simply a matter of organizing your life around watering the constructive seeds, and refraining from watering the distructive ones. He’s so practical! I like that man.
 
If you want more, there are videos of his talks on his website, and here is a series of talks he gave at an Israeli-Palestinian retreat in 2003, which I found very helpful, impressive and relaxing (because he himself is a great example of peace and mindfulness).
 
Thank you, and keep breathing,
 
Julia

 

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Getting off the high speed train into the here and now. {Practicing mindfulness instead of postponing happiness}

 
All my dreams of how I imagine a happy life boil down to one thing: living in the moment and enjoying it. Why? Because my happiest memories are of being in nature, or in a beautiful place, like an interesting city, or my bed, completely enjoying the present moment. Being still, singing, or in a good conversation. NOT of staring at a screen or rushing to get something done.

I have these memories because I was lucky enough to be born before the internet was invented. Thank God!! At least I have the experience of what it is like to enjoy life in the present: As a child, I would lie in the grass, feel the wind and sun on my skin, completely lose myself in children’s books, and listen to the old (vinyl) records in my father’s collection.

(It all ended when I became a TV-addict in my teens. Then, my first own computer with internet access and my first coffee machine arrived. I don’t remember much of those years, as I was hardly ever present (internet), but often very stressed (too much coffee).)

 

I want to go back to that state of happiness,

and I think many others want that, too, consciously or unconsciously. I (and they) have tried to get there by taking courses, going to retreats, buying self-help books, taking mind-altering substances (that, I haven’t done yet). But you can’t buy this state of mind. You can’t consume this happiness.
 

If happiness comes from living in the present moment, then all you have to do is be present, right??

So all you need is a way of making yourself present that works for you.

 
Nothing fancy – Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that breathing mindfully is the way to go: Being aware of your inbreath, being aware of your outbreath. It’s a matter of practice, but you can do it while walking, sitting, washing the dishes, etc. The energy of life is right here, right now, and we can touch it when we are mindful, and that makes us happy. We don’t have to go anywhere or buy anything.

This is very hard to accept. It’s a deeply ingrained habit for me to run away from what I feel in the present moment, unless it’s something pleasant. I also tend to think that I’ll be happy later, when I’ve finished X. But that moment never comes, because by the time I have finished X, I am starting to worry about Y and how I should get going on it. Does that sound familiar? When we live like this, we risk wasting our lives by working through our to-do lists, never enjoying what’s right in front of us. I don’t want to be old and realize that I never took the time to live!

We have nothing to lose in trying to live mindfully. We are alive and we have the present moment: this and some practice is all we need. We might even enjoy life more and find back to a way of living we had forgotten since our childhood.

 

Mindfulness for beginners

Here’s a tool for stressed and absent-minded Westerners that I found on Thich Nhat Hanh’s website: the bell of mindfulness. It’s a Firefox plugin that chimes a bell in certain intervalls (whatever you choose) and reminds you to stop everything for a moment and breathe mindfully. It also works offline. (Other tools for all operating systems: here.)

Ever since I became overstressed and often unable to focus from spending way too much time staring at screens, I have dreamt of a way to go back to how I was before the bad sides of technology got to me. I want to learn to live in the real (= offline, away from the media) world again and be here now, instead of rushing through life absent-mindedly.

I’m making it a daily practice to breathe mindfully as often as I can remember to. Will you join me?

 

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