Thursday, March 20, 2014

A letter to my Instagram Friend


I double clicked on the perfectly square picture on my Instagram newsfeed. A gentle path winding out into a lush forest of pines. I read the comments and saw my Instagram friend had posted information about her blog, which covered the topics of anxiety. In an effort to connect, I posted a link to my own story about anxiety which is featured on yogajournal.com. 

Her response made my heart beat. 

She described her feelings after she had read my story and asked if we could make contact via email so that we could talk about breathwork...the key to my recovery from my own debilitating anxiety. 

I agreed. And in her email to me she invited me to share how I had done it. How I had rid myself from the grip of fear. This is what I wrote:

Hello!

I am so happy you read my story and that you felt comfortable in contacting me. I read in your email that anxiety has been impacting your life in a way that is disruptive and disappointing and that you only received minimal relief from participating in yoga. I hear you and hope that what I am about to share will give you some ideas on things you can start doing to decrease the impact of that anxiety and fear.

If you are seeing a doctor or therapist, please check with him/her to make sure these items will work well for you. If you aren't seeing a doctor for your anxiety, please consider doing so just in case your situation isn't completely clear to me. I don't want to steer you wrong....

I am going to tell you exactly what I did that helped me get better. What I suggest you do is try a few of the activities, read some of the material that influenced my mind-space and see how it feels. When you try an activity, don't create too many expectations about how it 'should' feel. Just let it be what it is. No judgements. No self criticisms. When you read something, only absorb the information that rings true to you. For example, I read a Buddhism book. There were countless ideas in that book that changed my ideas forever. But the part about reincarnation and some of the things about Buddhas and gods wasn't for me at the time. I just took what made sense to me and left behind the rest. 

It all began with Dialectical Behavior Therapy, a groundbreaking zen-Buddhist-based therapy created by Marsha Linehan at the University of Washington. I used this therapy to learn how to manage my overwhelming emotions (sadness and fear). "The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook" by McKay, Wood, & Brantley is what I used to practice distress tolerance skills, mindfulness, and emotion regulation. 

After I truly dedicated myself to practicing DBT with the use of a journal for about 6 months, I chose to attend Buddhist meditation classes. I didn't care for singing, but the meditation and topics covered in the discussions helped me learn how to control my racing mind even further. This is where I purchased and read "Eight Steps to Happiness" by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. In this book I learned how to stop being dissatisfied with my past, my present, and the unknowns of the future. It was another very meaningful read in my recovery. 

Now, I had been doing DVD yoga, very haphazardly, for many years. The meditation at the end was nice but I hadn't gotten a lot of lasting mental health results. Then I took an Anusara immersion in Belligham, WA at Eight Petals Yoga. Alexis Britton taught the course and it really turned the tides for me in a crucial way. She asked us to read The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This ancient script is published in many different ways and analyzed by many different authors. I chose the edition written by Edwin Bryant. In this book, I learned what yoga really is...and it turned out to NOT be what I had found on the DVD or even in most yoga classes I'd wandered into. Yoga was all about stilling the mind! So I read it, I journaled, I shared with other yogis what they were learning and we practiced yoga in a whole new way. If you could make it to one of these immersions, I think you may find a whole new side of yoga that can help ease your busy mind. One of Alexis' immersions is happening on April 6th in la Conner at Crescent moon Yoga, if you are interested. She labels it as teacher training, but it's really just a deep-rooted learning of how beautiful and wonderful the practice of yoga can be. 

Sooo, with all the mind-training from the DBT, the Buddhist principals, and the Sutras, I began practicing yoga from a whole different plane. I did the whole postures thing and moved through all the poses but the new focus was on staying solid, practicing balance, facing my own insecurities on the mat...which equated to doing those things in my mind when I felt weak, unbalanced, and fearful out in the real world. 

I've saved the best for last.....the breathing. Oh the breathing! Thank the universe for the breathing. It turns out that when we get scared, feel fearful, or anticipate something bad, our sympathetic nervous systems acts different. We breathe faster and less deeply. When this happens, it triggers our parasympathetic systems (small parts of our blood flow system) to tighten. This creates an increase in blood pressure & heart rate and adrenaline. So, what I did was to learn how to regulate the breathing so that my blood vessels will stay relaxed, my heart rate will stay low, and my adrenals won't pump out adrenaline. The basic breathing that I try to do as much as possible throughout my day is abdominal breathing. Google it. The Anusara immersion will also teach you. Bee breath is another technique. I use it when I'm feeling poorly. It truly calms you. Also found in the Anusara Immersion with Alexis. And on Google. The third, that I use about three to four times per week is alternate nostril breathing. It immediately calms me and also reduces blood pressure and heart rate if practiced regularly for four months or more. I use it when I drive or when I'm stuck somewhere for too long. There are others.YogaJournal.com has many articles on breathwork. 

Also, I started running. I use it to expel the energy that sometimes builds up in me. Anxious energy. When I run, I feel tired after, and that forces me to let go of some of the things I am holding onto. 

A couple tidbits I do:
Child's pose...when I feel overwhelmed. I stay there for up to 10 minutes or more. 
Hip openers...they truly expel tension that builds up. Hold these types of poses for longer and longer periods to experience more of the 'release'. 
Inversions.....use these poses to feel a sense if calm. My fav is supported headstand (learned in that immersion). 
Anusara...this type of yoga is heart centered, emotionally balanced yoga. Find teachers at eight petals in b'ham and Crescent Moon in La Conner, WA
Music...I listen to Tibetan bells when I want to get still. 
Oils...I use lavender oil on my temples and pillow to create calm. 

I hope this helps. Please contact me and tell me how things go. Maybe you can blog about your experiences and send me the links when you do. 

Love & light to you,

---Rashel

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Still Your Mind

To my children:

In your lifetime, now & in the future, you have and will experience things that cause you to feel bad. I have witnessed these occurrences many times since the first of you were born in 1992. 

- sadness over a lost toy
- frustration towards an intruding sibling
- embarrassment at being different 
- jealousy regarding a friends abundance of mall T's and cool shoes
- self-doubt as a result of not being invited to a party
- fear of getting a bad grade or not performing well at a sport

Each of these words (sadness, frustration, embarrassment, jealousy, self-doubt, & fear) are examples of how humans suffer. These types of negative experiences will re-occur over & over in your lifetime. Later they look a bit different. Perhaps like this:

- sadness if you have to move away from a place you love
- frustration towards outsiders in the affairs of your relationship
- embarrassment at having said something you didn't quite think through
- jealousy over the nice things your neighbor may have (boats, nice landscaping, fine clothes, etc)
- self-doubt after the breakup of a serious relationship
- fear of not meeting your spouse's expectations

My point here is that as you move through different stages of development, the problems you encounter change, yet stay the same. You will not escape problems. They will just look different depending on where you are at in your life. 

Childhood tears lead to teenage angst. 
Teenage angst morphs into the stresses of college life. 
The stresses of college life often turn into the pressures of raising a young family. 
The pressures of raising a young family lead to the responsibilities of sending older children to college. 
The responsibilities of sending those older children to college lead to the adjustment of losing your youthfulness and preparing for retirement. 
And so on. 

The problems or sufferings in your life will not let up. 

I have a great message, though, to share with you. I have found a way to greatly reduce the pain that is associated with all of the obstacles you are going to face in the future. This 'way' can even help you put to rest the discomforts of negative experiences in your past. 

The way is this:

Practice restraint, stillness, and neutrality of your constantly moving state of mind.  

I watch you all sitting around thinking about your problems. You analyze them, make assumptions about what others are thinking, create grand stories about what is going to happen next. You place your problems (and yourself) into a very limiting box and just settle into the made-up story that you came up with. 

Many times you make huge mistakes in your thinking. You only analyze a partial list of the facts; you assume completely wrong; and things don't look at all like the ending you made up in your noggin. Most of the time all that thinking just caused you suffering (confusion, frustration, disappointment, and sadness). 

So, let us learn how to still the madness of thoughts bouncing around in our mind like monkeys. Let us learn what to do when we experience this Monkey Mind. Read my words; believe them because I have lived them; trust me; and then try the things I ask of you. 

I love you. 
I love the people you are in love with. 
I love your children and the people they love 
And I love your children's children and all the people whose lives they will touch. 

Let us us do good together and plant the seeds of happiness that will ripple out to them all. 


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

That Hair-on-Fire Moment...

You know that moment? That moment you are faced with a sudden problem that sends your blood pressure soaring and your heart rate rocketing? That moment of panic when life suddenly feels out of control?

Perhaps you experience a vehicle accident. Or maybe your credit card has been stolen. It could also be that moment you get a call from the school. 

I received that call just yesterday. I was fine when the phone rang and was fine while I said 'hello' but as I listened to the message of the speaker on the other end, adrenaline hit my veins and my fight or flight urges went into full effect. My day had flipped upside down just like that. 

At first I wanted to protest. To thrash against the message like a wild horse on a tether. Then I wanted to spew words. To tie my emotions to bow and arrows and shoot them into the receiver. I also wanted to escape. To hang up on the caller and toss my talking device into a nearby trash receptacle. 

Denial. Negative emotions. Avoidance. These all have come into our lives at some point or another after experiencing a shocking event.  These reactions, though, cause suffering. They intensify the perception of the seriousness of the problem; they put us at risk  for making less-than-ideal decisions; and they send out a ripple of negativity that spreads through each person with whom we make contact. 

So, I applied the opposite of each reaction as anecdote to my affliction. First, I calmed my breathing and softened my muscles. I sat firmly in my chair and began to gather facts. When my mind starting attaching possible meaning to those facts, I stopped it from doing so. I just kept coming back to the idea of each fact as having not played itself out, yet, in time. I had no idea how the facts would effect me or those I love, and by only attaching a neutral here-and-now-ness to each one the flames of my fears, my panic didn't not flare. 

Instead of allowing anger to boil up and effect my intentions, I instead chose to detach myself from expectations that I had about the issue. I expected to not get the call. I expected things to be smooth. I wanted things to go as I had planned. My attachment to the expectation really caused my anger to rise. So, I let go. My expectations don't rule the world and I kept saying this in my mind each time I asked myself 'Why?!'

And instead of wanting to escape, I laid out a plan of action. First, I'd do X, then I'd do Y, and if things continued as planned I'd either do Z or start a new plan. 

The next time you have a hair-on-fire moment, try doing the following:
1. Breathe slowly and deeply. 
2. Stay still and relax your muscles. 
3. Detach from expectations and just see the facts as they are now. 
4. Make a plan and also a plan for when your plan falls through. 

I did. And the following things happened:
A. I felt comfortable and secure. 
B. People I interacted with became more comfortable and secure. 
C. The matter was handled with clarity and in an ideal manner. 

It was the most lovely hair-on-fire moment I've ever experienced and I hope you'll try it the next time you feel those same flames of adrenaline. 


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Attachment. Aversion. Suffering.





One Legged Upward Bow over Mt. Baker, Anderson Butte, elevation 5420ft, photo taken by Douglas Fitchett

Attachment.

I woke on Hiking Morning with suffering. Having learned the evening prior that I was not going to be able to leave my house as planned for a hike to Park Butte due to unforeseen parenting responsibilities, I woke in a terrible mood. For the third weekend in a row, my plan to get into mountains, where I restore and rejuvenate most enjoyably, was thwarted. Instead, I'd be running my 13 year old ballerina back and forth to her dance classes. I wouldn't be finished till noon...much to late in the day to pull the trigger on an 8 mile, mountain hike. 

So, initially, I threw my arms up in the air and mentally yelled "Fine! Nevermind, then!" 

Attachment. Aversion. Suffering. 

Once I had identified the three above mentioned factors, I asked myself how I could do this day with grace. 

I knew I was attached to mountains. And even more attached to my plan to leave the house at 6am. I knew that I was mad as hell that my plan had fallen through and completely aversive to the change. I knew my resulting emotions were causing suffering. Not only to me but to my family who had to put up with my withdrawal and scowls. 

I chose, right then, after identifying all those deletorious elements that I would move forward with grace. I would not attach to my "plan". 

I made a new plan. I decided to leave when I was able. Noon. To choose a shorter trail that I could complete in the short time between noon and sunset. And I just went with it. 

I arrived at the trail and immediately found patches of snow. At 3800 feet elevation, that's bearable.  Add 1600 feet, though, and we are talking two feet of snow in places. 

Doubt raised. Should I turn back? Should snow stop me? How could I have risen above such challenges as my morning had brought and falter now? I had even beaten the odds that the trail may be closed due to the government shutdown. 

No. "Grace," I told myself. "Just soften your expectations, your attachment to what you think it 'should' be. Continue on with flexibility."

And I did. Even after having to navigate without a visible trail, encountering sleepy & irritated hornets in the tarn field, and battling colder temperatures than I was dressed for, I found myself right where I had intended. 

On the top of a butte, giving Mt. Baker the eyeball, upside down in wheel pose. 

Put your practice to the test. Practice. Off the mat. When you meet resistance, assess your attachments. Remove them. And change course a degree or two. 

You may just end up where you intended. Or like me, in a whole new location, with just as nice of a view.  

Crescent Lunge, Anderson Butte, elevation 5420ft, view of Mt. Baker in the background, photo by Douglas Fitchett

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Drowning Out Negativity


I am not a destroyer of life. 

This is what I knew when I read the following quote:

“From the backstabbing co-worker to the meddling sister-in-law, you are in charge of how you react to the people and events in your life. You can either give negativity power over your life or you can choose happiness instead. Take control and choose to focus on what is important in your life. Those who cannot live fully often become destroyers of life.” ―Anais Nin

Anais had taken my attention at that last line. I am not a destroyer of life. I thought about all the times I may have behaved as such. Under the common stresses of raising three teenagers in the nomadic Navy family lifestyle, I have certainly been guilty of such. The stresses had caused many instances of impatience, grumblings, complaints, and dissatisfactions. 

That was the past, I told myself. Certainly, since finding yoga and meditation, I had risen above all that? 

I took inventory of my present self and was surprised to find I needed to do some cleaning up.

This past week for example, I had given much attention to the past. Living in it. Remembering it. Talking about. Arguing about it. I had spent days in private contemplation about it and had spent more than a few hours giving it verbal power. How much negativity had I sent out into the universe? Oh, how I knew then that I had a been a “destroyer of life” as Nin had described. I had taken precious positive interactions away from my children and created negative space between my husband and myself.

So, I flipped it. Instead of reading the part on negativity and thinking about it and perhaps even feeling shame, I just chose to flip it. I attended, then, to the positive message. She says to choose happiness. To take control. To focus on important matters of life.

And so I did.

I’ve spent the last twenty four hours practicing her suggestion. I focused on now…providing clean food for my family, eating dessert together while talking and laughing. I said yes to my children’s requests for attention. I made phone calls. I texted people. I smiled. Laughed. I talked with my husband about our favorite activities. I made plans with him.

I flooded the evening and morning with happiness…with joy…with life. And by doing so, the negativity…those ripples that ring out for eternity with begrudging energy…were drowned out. No time was left for negative thinking.

Try it. Practice it. And when your falter, just start again. Listen to the good in every minute. Hear it and send it back out with your voice, your eyes, your touch.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Open Your Heart

Wild Thing, photo by Doug Fitchett, Diablo Lake, WA
She said "Rashel. Open your heart," as I practiced my first scorpion pose against the wall. I'd never heard that before, but somehow my body knew exactly what she was referring to. I opened my chest forward and felt my heart bloom like a lotus out into the room. When I did so, I felt a radiant joy flood my body. My back bent further back, I felt the energy of my backbody vibrate with warmth. I also felt happy.

This is how Alexis Britton taught me to open my heart and feel joy pour forth. She is a Master Anusara Yoga instructor who teaches in La Conner, Washington, at Crescent Moon Yoga, and she is a wizard at teaching people how to find love and joy by practicing yoga on, and off, the mat.

Two years laters, I stood atop a rock aside of Diablo Lake and felt the warm sun on my shoulders. I felt joy and was reminded of the opening of the heart. Since I love inversions for their calming effect, I chose to practice Wild Thing there on that rock. Upside down, I could see the glacier-capped mountains and bright blue sky in a whole new perspective. I remembered times when things felt upside and how I now know how to stay strong and supple during those times. I felt my joyously racing heart become slow, the sounds around me became soft, and I opened my chest to the sky. Remembering, there on that rock, upside down, that even when life changes and my perspective is forced into something new, I can open my heart and pour forth love.

Much love to Alexis...for teaching me to open my heart.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Elemental Love Affair


I hiked my way down the red, hard rock trail toward the edge of the water and laid out my yoga mat. I opened my Yoga Journal Magazine to an inspiring page of yoga sequences and took in the fresh salt air. The Straight of Juan de Fuca lay just beyond and offered a plentiful breeze.

I had come to escape the business of my house. My husband was tinkering around with his tools in the garage and there were plenty of chores to do. I, however, wanted to get away for a moment and invest in some centering. My goal was to recharge for the week.

As I begun my practice, moving with slow, exacting changes of movement, I became aware of the sun high above. It glowed against the bright blue sky. Today, I let my hair out of its fastener and let it fly recklessly with the ocean air. I moved from pose to pose, from child to camel and back to child. Again from child to camel and back to child. As I did so, I felt as if there was a connection between myself and the sun and the sky. Breathing in the air, steadily letting if flow out, the undulations of my body warming with the full spectrum of the sun's force.

I spent time with balances, inversions, and some strengthening poses. All were exceptionally delicious out on the edge of the sound, away from busy sun-seeking explorers in their busy cars. Down by the water, against the backdrop of the scintillating sparkles of water, I engaged in my love affair with the elements. My body and them were engaged in balanced in such a way that I didn't want to go.

After a meditation, I climbed down the 20 feet of bluff to dance my toes across the top of the churning water. The kelp stood witness.

After a short conversation with a lone hiker and his goat-climbing-like-child, I rolled up my mat and hiked back up the path barefoot, feeling the warm path below me.