Sunday, 10 October 2010

We'll see ...

This is one of my favourite zen/taoist stories about how our thinking creates our problems:

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbours came to visit.

"Such bad luck," they said sympathetically.

"We'll see," the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.

"How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed.

"We'll see," replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

"We'll see," answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

"We'll see" said the farmer.

In saying 'we'll see' the farmer was demonstrating one of the core principles of yogic thinking: vairagya. Vairagya means non-reaction; if we are able to function from a state of vairagya we have a refined discriminating awareness that doesn't get 'caught up' in reacting and judging.

As Rudyard Kipling wrote in his famous poem, If:

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

This is both a Buddhist and a yogic concept - of course, both have similar roots.

Yoga for Anxiety

Watch this 15 min video to practice yoga to help relieve and manage the symptoms of anxiety:

Breathing and Anxiety

Recently I have been working alot with clients who have a high degree of anxiety. Their symptoms range from panic, over worrying, phobias, chest pains, blurred vision, impaired ability to think clearly, headaches, inability to focus, loss of memory, muscle pain, dizziness and sleep problems.

The funny thing is that these symptoms are also the result of hyperventilation (over breathing) and other breathing disorders. When we hyperventilate, we are breathing mainly through the chest.

Test yourself:

  • sit in a comfortable position on the chair or on the floor

  • place your right hand on the centre of your chest, the heart area, in between the nipples

  • place your left hand on your belly, just below your navel

  • begin to breathe in your own way, your normal breath

Do you feel the movement more beneath your left or right hand? If the right hand is moving more you are chest breathing.

Chest breathing results in a shallow breath. As the breath is shallow too much carbon dioxide is exhaled and body becomes more alkaline, this (alkylosis) triggers the neuro-hormonal, physiological responase which increases breathing rate and also the anxiety itself.

An initial activating event (a conflict with your boss, perhaps) may have caused the breathing response (and the initial anxiety) but the breathing then propagates the anxiety. Thus we have entered a vicious circle of anxiety.

How we breathe, and how we feel are intimately connected in a two-way loop. Which means that we can change the way we feel by chaning our breathing.

However, before I move on to that it is also important to know that chest breathing can cause tension and pain because it uses the wrong muscles, such as the sternocleidomastoid and upper trapezius in the neck, pectoralis and latisimus dorsi in the trunk. These muscles soon get tired and weak, because they are not designed for primary breathing, and this can lead to aches and pains in the neck, shoulders and upper back.

The diaphragm is the main breathing muscle and produces 80% of the inhalation. The diaphragm is attached to the ribcage and the lumbar spine. When we breathe using the diaphragm, the belly moves; it moves out on the inhale and releases back as we breathe out.

Diaphragmatic breathing has many benefits over chest breathing:

  • it massages the internal organs and reduces the symptoms of IBS and other digestive problems (common with anxiety)
  • it activates the vagus nerve and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and reduces the release of the stress hormone cortisol, so that we feel less anxious and more relaxed
  • as the diaphragm is connected to the heart, it acts as a second heart and means that less stress is put on the heart when we use the proper breathing muscle to breathe

Learn how to practice diaphragmatic breathing with this short podcast.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Beautiful Women

Age 3: She looks at herself and sees a Queen.

Age 8: She looks at herself and sees Cinderella.

Age 15: She looks at herself and sees an Ugly Sister (Mum I can't go to school looking like this!)

Age 20: She looks at herself and sees 'too fat/too thin, too short/too tall, too straight/too curly'- but decides she's going out anyway.

Age 30: She looks at herself and sees 'too fat/too thin, too short/too tall, too straight/too curly' -- but decides she doesn't have time to fix it, so she's going out anyway.

Age 40: She looks at herself and sees 'too fat/too thin, too short/too tall, too straight/too curly' -- but says, "At least I am clean' and goes out anyway.

Age 50: She looks at herself and sees 'I am' and goes wherever she wants to go.

Age 60: She looks at herself and reminds herself of all the people who can't even see themselves in the mirror anymore. Goes out and conquers the world.

Age 70: She looks at herself and sees wisdom, laughter and ability, goes out and enjoys life.

Age 80: Doesn't bother to look. Just puts on a purple hat and goes out to have fun with the world.

Maybe we should all grab that purple hat earlier!!
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