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Breathe And Relax, Vagus Is Back In Town!

This week I had the pleasure of working with some of the best therapists in the field of holistic care for people living with cancer. From GP’s, nurses, accupuncturists and counsellors through to dance therapists and volunteers, this collective of multi-disciplined experts work tirelessly at  Penny Brohn Cancer Care in what’s become known as The Bristol Approach Programme.

Their unique approach incorporates physical, emotional and spiritual support alongside mainstream medicine. Using complimentary therapies and self-help techniques they support individuals and their carers, ALL OF WHICH IS ENABLED BY DONATION! Yes, I know I’m shouting, but I think you’ll agree this is a message worth spreading. Please take a moment to check out their website from the link above and help get involved if you feel so inclined.

At the centre, facilitator and Shiatsu practitioner Markus reminded me of the power of a simple breathing technique, which I’d like to share with you now.

As you continue to read this, take a slow deep inhalation through your nose and as you gradually exhale  through the mouth, toward the end of the breath gently sigh the word Haaaa…. and again, breathe in slowly through your nose, pause  before the exhalation and as if  with a satisfied sigh, Haaaaa the breath out slowly.   Go on take one more breath.file0002115718863

Treat yourself to this little gem several times an hour and take a moment to feel the ebb and flow of your breath and notice how you feel. Relaxed and chilled I’ll bet.

Following on from Adrian’s blog last week (thanks Adrian) in which he introduced us to the vagus nerve, it might interest you to know that the vagus nerve is also involved in the above breathing technique.

Imagine this nerve like a meandering river that winds and wanders throughout the body from the brainstem to the abdomen, it gently touches body parts on it’s journey, the tongue, vocal chords and major organs like the heart, lungs, stomach, intestines and also glands that produce anti-stress enzymes and hormones. As it touches these organs it subtly influences such things as digestion, metabolism and the relaxation response.DSC_1565

When we make time to take a slow deep breath through the nose and gently exhale though the mouth Haaaa we encourage the relaxation response and just for a short time everything feels right in the world, as we send powerful messages of relaxation throughout the mind and body.

When we practice this type of conscious breathing it has the effect of keeping us present, allowing us space to step back from the ‘daily dramas’ of life.  We can temporarily quell anxiety and remind ourselves that a reservoir of peace is always just a breath away.

Please feel free to add your comments below and let us  know your experiences of taking your fair share of life force and energy in this way!

Enjoy!

 

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Don’t Panic! There’s Help Out There.

When Callum was discharged from hospital with the words “It’s just a panic attack” despite obvious relief (he had been admitted for a suspected heart attack) he found these words less than comforting.

Psychotherapy was his next stop.

Callum’s symptoms were terrifying to him, his heart thumping so loudly he thought it would pump right out of his chest, accompanied by a feeling of being gripped tightly around the chest and a distinct inability to breathe properly.

Among other therapeutic interventions such as managing old memories, learning meditation and relaxation, he trained himself to breathe differently by using some simple breathing techniques . This gave Callum a greater sense of control in situations where he’d previously felt fearful and inadequate.

Relax MGD©My overriding message to people suffering in this way, is that it is possible to change the way you think and feel.

Not everyone can afford counselling and therapy. You can however join a local yoga class that teaches breathing as a regular part of the class, talk to your Doctor and read up on the internet and educate yourself about the nature and reasons for panic and anxiety.

If you’re suffering from excessive stress, tension or the other things mentioned here sign up to download your free relaxation programs.

Stress Free With Confidence is a program that if listened to regularly can also help alleviate some of the symptoms of panic and anxiety.

Mean while you might find this audio clip useful. I’m always interested in your feed-back.

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These are my essential survival tips for a stress-free family Christmas

How to cope with ChristmasAs Christmas approaches it can be a time of mixed emotions. There’s such a lot of schmaltzy advertising and just about everywhere you look there are images of perfect Christmas scenes.

This is not the reality for many people. Over the years I have worked with clients who dread being thrown together with relations they clash with or can just about tolerate. The struggle for these people is to honour themselves without becoming too accommodating and acquiescent in the process.

Continue reading These are my essential survival tips for a stress-free family Christmas

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Which Style of Meditation is Right for You? Take your pick!

Types of Meditation
Meditation is getting a lot of press at the moment – especially mindfulness, but you don’t have to be into incense, omming and chakras to get the benefit.

I’ve talked before about how important I think meditating is for a happier, calmer mind. I really hope you’ll all give yourself the time to spend just a few minutes a day meditating. It really can have amazing consequences!

Here is my beginner’s guide to meditation, including a selection of techniques to choose from.

Getting meditation into your routine

Just like exercise, chances are if you set yourself up with too big a goal, you might be setting yourself up for failure.

So for all you beginners out there this is the way forward: start small and stick to it!

A little commitment

What’s your commitment? I’m talking daily. Can you realistically commit to THREE minutes a day? Great! Then that’s the place to start.

The next vital thing is to choose your time – morning or evening? How about both? 7.00am or 6.15am or 9.30pm. Set a time and stick to it.

Space to breathe

Now find a space to meditate, and ALWAYS meditate in that place. To encourage yourself, aim to have a nice space. Make sure it’s clean, uncluttered, not too hot and not too cold. If you only have one room, select a corner of the room, make it nice and sit there.

Make a deal with yourself

Once your time starts, close your eyes and make a deal with yourself to remain still. DON’T fidget, and ignore any itches, irritations or interruptions. If you have to cough, of course do so – it’s common sense to be comfortable – but just sit still and be. This is your training.

Rinse and repeat

As you know, I always say repetition is the mother of all skill, and as you repeat the daily meditation you will gain emotional control and an ability to self-regulate thoughts, feelings and reactions, thereby becoming a master of meditation.

Obviously once you have got your three minutes a day under your belt and are doing this effortlessly each day, you can start to extend the time to five minutes, then seven, ten and so on.

In no time at all you’ll be meditating effortlessly for 30 minutes a day and enjoying the amazing benefits that come as a result!

Which Style of Meditation is the best?

Western research is still in its infancy on the different styles of meditation and we’re starting to see more appearing, with a number of universities getting funding for studies.

A recent study in Norway looked at the differences in brain activity between concentrative  and non-directive meditation. It found that non-directive meditation – where you focus on your breath or a sound, and allow your mind to wander – actually showed more brain activity than concentrative – where you focus on breathing and also on specific thoughts to suppress others, thereby concentrating the mind.

The activity in the brain was in the area that processes memory and emotions, the area that is normally active when we rest. Non-directive meditation made this area even more active than it is during rest, which suggests that meditation might actually be more effective for processing your memories and emotions than a restful sleep!

Mindfulness meditation is showing promising early results in a number of studies, including one testing mindfulness meditation on stressed out marines.

How Do I Know Which Meditation style is right for me?

1. Breath Focus

Who’s it for?  It’s particularly good if you are more kinesthetic, you can feel the breath in the nasal passages and follow its journey into the body.

This is the simplest method (taken from Power Tool 9 in my book ‘I Just Want To Be Happy’).

Start with a regular daily practice of two or three minutes. Sit quietly where you won’t be disturbed. Close your eyes, and take your awareness to your nostrils. Be aware of breathing in and out through your nose for a few breaths and then silently count 1,2,3,4 as you breathe in and 1,2,3,4 as you hold your breath then 1,2,3,3 as you exhale and 1,2,3,4 as you pause.

Do this for 10 breaths. If it helps imagine your are breathing around a square.

You will probably find that your mind wanders. This is true for all of us since the nature of the mind is to be constantly moving. When this happens simply go back to ‘one’ and start again. This is a mental discipline and the ultimate aim is to get to ten breaths uninterrupted by thoughts.

2. Mantra

Who’s it for? Mantra isn’t for everyone, however it could be very useful if you happen to be highly auditory – i.e. very tuned into sound – or if you really have a poor attention span!

So which mantra? It could be something from any faith, for example the Lord’s Prayer, or it could be a Buddhist Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, or a yogi’s Om Namah Shiva, or even the  repetition of a western word such as Peace, Relax, Be  or I am Still.

You choose the one that works for you. Then repeat it mentally and silently over and over for the duration of your mediation.

It should also be said here that some of the more ancient chants  such as Om are said to be imbibed with a powerful resonance, said to bring extra benefit to the meditator. Sounds great to me!

3.Trataka

This might be preferred choice  if you tend to be more visual, or if your eyes are tired from too much computer work.

You do need to be sitting still and probably in the privacy of your own home for this one. Light a candle about two to three feet away from you at eye level. Remove contact lenses. Relax your body, sit up straight and soften your gaze to one of receiving the light into your eyes rather than staring.

As soon as you blink or your eyes water, gently close your eyes and hold the image of the candle flame in your inner eye. As soon as the image fades, open your eyes and begin again.

NB Traditionally in yoga, Trataka is considered more of a Kyria (a purification process) than a meditation.

So which one is my favourite?

My favourite is No. 1 – Breath Focus. It can be done open-eyed, and even standing in a queue or sitting on a train. It can be done in addition to your regular practice and used any time you need to control your mind, emotions or body.

You could also try to develop a system. Something like this: bring your awareness to your breathing on the hour every hour – or as near to it as possible.

The most important thing is once you have found a method that works for you, STICK to it. If you keep chopping and changing you’ll never establish a discipline, and that’s the key.

So, don’t take my word for it. Do it yourself. Commit to a month and see the benefits for yourself.

Please let me know how you get on, and if you have any questions remember to post them or email me and I’ll do my best to answer them for you.

Contra-indications

I suggest you refrain from Meditation if you have been diagnosed with any personality disorder or mental illness.

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Make your own relaxation recording – step by step guide

How to make your own relaxation recording

When one of my friends recently confided that she was massively stressed out and  just couldn’t relax I asked her what method she was using to relax. She looked at me, perplexed. “I’m not,” she said “I don’t relax. I wouldn’t know how to.”

It put me in mind of where I was some years back, lying in hospital feeling very sorry for myself.

I had suffered a spontaneous  pnueomothorax  (that’s a collapsed lung to you and me). According to the doctors there was no apparent reason for this condition. It happened a total of  THREE TIMES over a two-year period before I finally got the message!

[UPDATE: As promised, I’ve turned this into a free download for you. Click here to get it!]

Continue reading Make your own relaxation recording – step by step guide