Category Archives: Health

Meditate Every Day for the Best Relationships in the World

I’ve been meditating twice a day since September. Ten months of disciplining myself to sit with consciousness for 40 minutes a day. Approximately 3% of my day is spent practicing Vedic meditation.

I have cultivated many benefits including patience, focus, compassion, and mindfulness.

…but those will be saved for another blog.

Today, I’m going to reflect on my experience with noticing superficial relationships in my life.

Since I’ve become a regular meditator, I’m noticed how shallow some of my friendships, erm… “friendships”…really are. I’ve become aware of this with a large group of friends and with my co-workers.

With this group of friends, common interests grew us together. It’s more like a friendship web than a circle. I’ve known from day one that some people I naturally resonate with on a deeper level. And others, well, we just say “Hello” to each other and make some small talk. I thought that I was being polite by acknowledging everyone, whether that be around town, in class, or at dinner.

Lately, I’m realizing that I was being superficial. I’ve noticed that I said “Hi” to them because I want them to be my friend. A part of me was a little jealous that they get more attention and more verbal recognition. (Soooo elementary school!)

Now I notice that less fucks are given. There is still an initial urge being drawn to this person, to try to stand out to them, and to be acknowledged by them. When I watch this, it fades quickly. Now, there is freedom in not having to be everyone’s “friend.”

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I observe how superficial people can be here in the USA. I don’t think they are trying to be a superficial person…maybe they are just trying to seek recognition like I was.

Regular meditation (compared to sporadic meditation) has allowed me to cultivate an insane amount of depth in my daily life. I feel emotions and feelings more. I am capable of more intimate friendships. I am more self-aware. My senses are hella sharp. I frequently feel “high” even though I have pretty much eliminated cannabis from my life. I have gotten so sensitive to my reality that I can really hold a state of “presence” a lot longer than I ever could. My mind is more focused on the conservation on hand without drifting into daydreams and judgments.

Sometimes I’m feeling a little alone. Not because I don’t have people around, but because I am left feeling unfulfilled with an interaction, especially someone who I thought I was close with.

I used to think that laughing with someone or sharing smiles were signs of a true friendship or a real friendship, not necessarily someone who I am best friends with.

Now, I witness that people are willing to fake that laugh and force that smile to put on a facade. To make themselves more likable. People are fine with creating and cultivating shallow interactions with a friend or a coworker if it means that there is “harmony” between them. They may even talk bad about that person when they leave the room.

But guess what…

There is no depth to that “friendship.” No foundation. No sustenance.

I can’t text you for help if I’m considering ending my life. I can’t message you for advice on what I should do during a huge transition in my life.

Why do we fake being rainbows, sunshine, and unicorns with each other when there is SO much more we could explore together?

Life has so much to unfold for us when we have the dedication to show up and be real. And being real isn’t synonymous with being cool, popular, or liked.

Being real is being able to express from a place of purity. No expectations. No delusions. No drama.

Part of this purity comes from getting to the source of who you are. Who are you without the racing thoughts? The key to getting to the source of who you are is always in this moment.

Guess what! Being a daily meditator makes you metaphorically buff as hell when it comes to being present.

When you are able to experience this moment even more, a whole new world opens up. You will be able to pick up on more subtleties and hear more intuition. You will marvel are the closeness that you can feel with another person, Earth and yourself.

From this space, life literally begins to feel like a trip.

It all begins with you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Use Stress to Your Benefit

I recently watched a Ted Talk by Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist, called “How to Make Stress Your Friend.” I always assumed that stress could only be a negative experience, an enemy. Since modern day living is full of stressful events and people, I thought I was doomed to a mostly negative life. Yet, McGonigal’s talk brings up something entirely new for me. Something that will change my view on life and its struggles, for the the better.

In her talk, she brings up the fascinating implications of a study conducted on 30,000 adults in the United Stated over the course of eight years. The researchers asked two simple questions:

How much stress have you experienced in the last year? 
Do you believe that stress is harmful for your health?

After the study concluded, the investigators found out that those who encountered a lot of stress had a 43% higher risk of dying (Keller, Litzelman, Wisk, Maddox, Chen, Creswell, & Witt, 2011). However, this finding was only accurate for people who think stress is bad for you.

People who did not think stress was bad for their health, but still experienced a lot of it, had the lowest risk of dying for all people in the study. These folks had a lower chance of dying than people who only had little stress in their lives (McGonigal, 2013).

“People died not from stress, but from the belief that stress is bad for you,” said McGonigal. “Can changing how you think about stress make you healthier? The science says ‘Yes.’ When you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress.”

However, the relationship between stress levels and health might not be based on sheer positive thinking. Keller et al. (2011) gave a possible interpretation of their results. People who think stress is bad for you will automatically assume later that they actually do have negative health effects just based on their perceived notions, even if their health hasn’t declined based on the amount of stress in their lives.

The physical changes experienced during stress include increased heart and breathing rates. Breathing is how the body gets oxygen, so wouldn’t it be a “good” thing to be getting more oxygen before a class presentation or other “stressful” event? People can even get increased heart and breathing rates during sex, which generally is seen as an exciting, joyous experience.

This is my body helping me rise to the challengewhen you view stress in that way, your body believes you, and your stress responses becomes healthier,” McGonigal claims.

Not only can people change how their view physical responses, optimism may help our health as well. I came across another study that followed students during their first semester of law school. Students that had a positive outlook gravitated towards having higher lymphocyte (cells that play a strong role in the immune system) counts in the body (Segerstrom, Taylor, Kemeny, & Fahey, 1998).

Research shows that people are not automatically doomed by stress. Your personal relationship to stress is what may dictate whether or not your experience the negative effects from it. Furthermore, there are steps that can be taken to change the response to stress in the moment.

First, acknowledge when stress is present in your life. Don’t force it away, yet. “I am feeling stressed right now because I have to submit this paper” or “Dealing with [insert situation here] is making me feel stressed out.”

Next, observe how your body is reacting. Are you hunched over? Are your shoulders tensing up towards your ears? Is your jaw tightening? What happens when you slowly try to bring your physical body back to neutral? I find that when I force something too quickly, it doesn’t always provide the long-term change I’m looking for. The attitude of “Relax! Relax now!” is stressful and fast-paced in itself. Think about it: if you are already stressed out, would being stressed and angry about your stress make it go away?

People deal with stress in numerous ways. Providing a “fix-all” for every individual is not a solution. I drink herbal tea to help me relax. Yet, there are a good amount of people that can’t stand the taste of earthy leaf water! Wouldn’t really help with relaxation, would it? Here is an excellent website about discovering what solutions work for you in the moment, based on personality, situation, and senses.

Do you see stress as a bad thing?
Do you think stress can be used as a tool?
How do you respond to stress?

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Interested in watching the TED talk mentioned?

Sources:

Keller, A., Litzelman, K., Wisk, L., Maddox, T., Cheng, E., Creswell, P., & Witt, W. (2011). Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality. Health Psychology, 31(5), 677-684. Retrieved August 15, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3374921/

McGonigal, K. (TED). (2013, September 4). How to Make Stress Your Friend (Video File). Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcGyVTAoXEU

Segerstrom, S., Taylor, S., Kemeny, M., & Fahey, J. (1998). Optimism is associated with mood, coping and immune change in response to stress. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(6), 1646-1655.

 

Breathing: How the body and mind communicate to each other

**Article originally written for Psych2Go**
“Don’t forget to breathe!” my dad used to tell me during track races. How could I forget to breathe? For whatever reason, it was something that I just forgot to do…and I’m not alone. (Sort of. I’ll get to that soon.) As children, we are encouraged to talk, walk, eat, drink and do other cute things, but what about breathing? Without breathing, we would cease to live in a matter of minutes! Yet, proper breathing is never really taught to us.

Yes, inhalation provides vital oxygen, but the style of breathing determines how that essential nutrient is utilized in our body. Furthermore, patterns of breath are closely intertwined with states of the mind. This happens whether or not people are mindful of each breath. Please take four seconds out of reading right now and give undivided attention to how your breath is…

How was it? Did it feel effortless, deep in the abdomen, and relaxed? What about feeling forced, weak, shallow, and predominantly in the upper chest?

Humans breathe in two different ways: automatically or voluntarily. Automatic breathing is the physiological response of the body to high levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. The body naturally increases the breathing rate to get rid of excess carbon dioxide and take in more oxygen (Novotny & Kravitz). We can also voluntarily choose to breathe with different lengths of inhalation or exhalation. This is actual a remarkable ability of the human body for a couple reasons. First, how many other bodily processes can work automatically or voluntarily? I can think of blinking and peeing (if you laugh too hard. Hehe.) Second, we now have a tangible link between body and mind.

The relationship between our breathing pattern and mental state is interchangeable. Meaning, each of them affect the other. This is a benefit to us because we can have more control and intention over our overall psycho-emotional experience. Yay!

Back to the quality of your breath… So just how does this all work? Short and shallow breaths stimulate our sympathetic nervous system response of “flight or fight.” This type of breathing is dominant during anxiety. Long, slow, and deep breaths activate the parasympathetic nervous which helps us to “rest and digest” (Wilson, 2014). Breathing in this manner correlates with peace, relaxation, and calm states of consciousness.

Breathe is the physiological connection between body and mind. It can be used negatively (usually without people noticing) or as a helpful tool when you kindly focus on it.

It may have taken years to develop bad breathing habits, but fret not! The wonderful breath is an infinite mechanism and you can come back to at ANY moment. (Including now.) It’s okay to forget about this natural instrument. It happens. What actually matters is that you remembered again…and again…and again! Be patient with yourself 🙂

Interested in more?

  1. Three surprising ways a deep breath can reduce your anxiety
  2. Breath, body, and mind: The physiology of pranayama
  3. The science of breathing

Sources in article:

Novotny, S., & Kravitz, L. (n.d.). The Science of Breathing. Retrieved July 11, 2015.

Wilson, A. (2014, January 2). Breath, Body, and Mind: The Physiology of Pranayama – Thrive: The Kripalu Blog. Retrieved July 11, 2015.