Friday, June 19, 2015

Yoga: A Journey to Self

 By Annie Felice
 Tadasana: Tree Pose by Sejz Inn
If youve ever taken a yoga class, think back to your experience of Savasana, sometimes referred to as corpse pose or final resting pose. You lie on your back, close your eyes, and relax your arms and legs. Resting like this for anywhere between two and ten minutes, I have experienced the deepest moments of peace, bliss, and wholeness. I used to think that I was simply exhausted after a challenging yoga practice, but now I know why I feel so great in Savasana – I am in Self energy, meaning I have connected to the place inside me that is grounded, calm, steady, true...my core essence.
            How can yoga help you access your Self energy? Yoga is both the practice of acknowledging the parts of you that are present, as well as the practice of separating from these parts and helping them return to balance.  The most frequently out-of-balance part that I encounter in my clients is a Critical Part. Nearly every single one of my clients has an Inner Critic, a part of their personality that is rigid and very demanding of perfection. Yoga challenges our perfectionistic, judgmental parts who tend to see things as black-or-white and have strict standards that must be met for us to be "good enough." In yoga, there's no such thing as perfecting a pose, and it “counts” as doing yoga whether you stay in childs pose the entire time or balance on one finger tip.
            Practicing yoga also challenges our Distracting or Numbing Parts. We all have parts who try to prevent us from thinking about or feeling uncomfortable thoughts or emotions. Something unpleasant bubbles into our consciousness, and BOOM, a part of us tells us to drink, eat, shop, sleep, zone out on our cell phones...you get the idea. Yoga encourages us to literally and physically stay with the uncomfortable, by holding poses that are challenging. Our inclination is to hold our breath, clench, resist, and tighten when something is uncomfortable, but that only makes the uncomfortable more uncomfortable. Yoga teaches us how to find comfort in the discomfort—through breath, acceptance, and trust that the discomfort is temporary.
         With our parts in balance, we are able to connect with Self energy. That place of peace, wholeness, and connectedness is always present; it's just a matter of remembering that place is within you and creating the space to access it. Whether it's yoga, meditation, petting your dog or cat, walking in nature, listening to music...I encourage you to find something that helps you connect with your Self energy. 

Annie Felice, MA, LPC is a staff psychotherapist at The Awakening Center. She specializes in the treatment of eating disorders and body image issues, anxiety, depression, grief, and relationship issues. She has specialized training in Internal Family Systems which is informally known as "parts work."



Monday, June 1, 2015

Moving from Body Hatred to Body Acceptance

“Woman Standing” by Gaston Lachaise
By Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC
Nothing makes me cringe more than when my clients berate, disparage, or verbally abuse their bodies. I see kind, caring, empathic, compassionate, creative, and intelligent people who are beautiful inside and out—and I HATE that our current society makes them HATE their bodies. .
It is said that 85% of what we look like is determined by genetics. I often ask clients to bring in pictures of themselves from their childhood. During our first sessions together, “Ruth” told me she had a weight problem as a young child, so when she brought in family pictures, I expected to see an obese little girl. To my surprise, Ruth looked absolutely normal weight to me. (This is more common than you think!) When I expressed this to Ruth, she was unable to see it. Looking at the same picture she said, “Can’t you see how fat I was?! I am so much bigger than my friend!” Ruth was almost a head taller than her friend, but I still did not see a fat child. In fact I was concerned for how frail her friend looked.
Then Ruth showed me a picture of her whole family together. In the picture I noticed how close her parents and her older sister were, while Ruth stood apart from them. Ruth and her father were both very tall and broad-shouldered, while her sister and mother were short and small-boned. In fact, her mother looked emaciated! When I commented Ruth replied, “My mother never ate anything. She was always dieting!” No wonder Ruth hated her Body—she learned at a very early age that her Body was (genetically) too big for the image her mother held for her.
Studies show that twins separated at birth look more like each other than the families they grew up with. When we look in a mirror, we may see similarities between our features and our family members’; I have my dad’s nose, my mom’s jawline, and, yes, my grandmother’s hips. But like Ruth, we mistakenly think we should be able to totally control the proportions of our bodies. We accept that people come in many different heights, and we don’t think that those who are shorter or taller than average “are doing it wrong” or “have let themselves go.” Imagine your doctor telling you that you are “overheight” and need to lose two inches!
Of course your doctor may be hounding you to lose weight, which just adds ammunition to your Body Hatred arsenal. But studies have found that people who were overweight, but not obese, were actually 17% less likely to die than those of normal weight. And individuals who were underweight were 73% more likely to die than those of normal weight. 1
So, I like to ask my clients, “If you spend today loving your Body, accepting your Body, or hating your Body, how will your choice effect your day?” No matter what you choose to do, there are no “do-overs.” You don’t get to re-do today if you didn’t enjoy how it felt to to hate your Body.
Did you spend today hating your Body? Maybe it’s a beautiful day, and you’d love to walk on the lakefront path to watch the sailboats on Lake Michigan. But did you keep yourself isolated in your apartment because you’re afraid people will look at you and think you are fat and ugly?
Or maybe you were invited to a friend’s party and you know she throws great parties! Did you keep yourself isolated in your apartment because you’re afraid people will look at you and think you are fat and ugly?
Perhaps you considered relaxing and going shopping at your favorite mall. Did you keep yourself isolated in your apartment because you’re afraid people will look at you and think you are fat and ugly?
So many missed opportunities because we fear what others will think about us! It’s a shame because the life you are missing is yours. And you don’t get to re-do all these opportunities later!
So how do you begin to accept your Body today? I encourage my clients to begin each day with the affirmation: “This is the Body I have today. And I look fine [or okay, good enough, acceptable—whatever word works for you].” Live today as if you believed this statement, because I guarantee you, no one is as negative of your Body as you are.
If you look up fat in a thesaurus you will the word large. If you look up large you’ll get grand. If you look up grand you will get splendid! How would life be if we all thought of our Bodies as splendid!
What constructive words can you find to describe your Body? When I think of my Body as strong and stately, I notice I automatically stand up a bit straighter and feel proud! Play around with words until you find some that feel more accepting, even if your Body doesn’t look like you want it to today.
You may want to surround yourself with beautiful pictures of people of all sizes. Go to an art museum and wander through the galleries. Buy a postcard of the painting or sculpture that makes you feel the best; hang it somewhere you will see often. For myself I love the statue “Woman Standing” by Gaston Lachaise. Her Body looks both graceful and strong—and look at her powerful muscles. To me she looks like a proud woman who is not going let anyone disrespect her or her Body. How splendid is that!
I hope some of this helps you move from Body-Hatred to Body-Acceptance to Body-Appreciation and eventually to Body-Love!
Amy is the Founder and Director of The Awakening Center, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2014. She is working on a book about recovering from eating disorders.

Reference

Orpana HM, Bethelot JM, Kaplan MS, Feeny DH, McFarland B, Ross NA, “BMI and Mortality: Results from a National Longitudinal Study of Canadian Adults,” Obesity (Silver Spring), Vol 18, Jan 2010, 214-8.




Monday, May 4, 2015

Meditation Monday: Listening


By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC

In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates a weekly meditation group at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or nancyhalltac@gmail.com


I’m often in awe of our problem-solving abilities. There seems to be no challenge or obstacle that we as people cannot overcome. Human beings can be tireless and able to reach amazing heights.

Doing is very important, but we need to remember to keep it in balance. In meditation, we pause to listen.

Listening is a unique activity in that it requires us to receive instead of do. To really listen to a friend or loved one, we have to stop, focus, and closely tune in. We allow the information to flow in, accepting it as it comes. A barrier to listening is often our attempts to formulate a response while the other person is still talking. Or we might be distracted by an opinion or judgment about what is being said.

We fall into this trap with ourselves as well. Meditation helps us listen to ourselves. We can listen to the surface of the body and to the interior of our experience. We listen to our breath. But we also tune in to our relationship to the information that we’re receiving.

Here’s an example. In my inner reflection and listening, I might notice that I am hungry. But I might resist this information, telling myself that I had a substantial breakfast so I shouldn’t be hungry. I might tell myself that my hunger is a sign of weakness. Or I might just tell myself that it’s time for a snack. Often our resistance or acceptance of our experience informs the emotion that is then experienced.

In the practice of meditation, we listen at different levels. We attend to the specific experience and then notice our thoughts or feelings about that experience. Think of it as the meta-commentary that runs through our minds.

By anchoring ourselves in our breath and learning to allow our experiences to simply exist, we begin to dismantle that resistance.

Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC is a staff therapist and the intake coordinator at The Awakening Center. In addition to seeing clients for individual therapy, she leads the weekly meditation group and co-leads the Somatic-Experience-Informed Trauma Healing Group. Check and subscribe out her blog “All Shapes and Sizes,” which appears on Chicago Tribune’s media partner ChicagoNow.com.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Practicing Intentions in Our Daily Lives


Intentions help us gain clarity. They are tools for maintaining balance and order, tools to help you connect with the spiritual being within and maintain a sense of peace and clarity amid the external chaos and noise. Setting an intention or two each morning is a highly beneficial practice. Write this intention down or say it out loud. Remember that you can hold onto the intention for today or make it part of your daily practice. Focus on how you see yourself today and how you can be your most authentic self.
Here is a quote that I use to set my day and connect with my authentic self:

“I am responsible for the growth and maintenance of mindfulness in my own life. Each day is an opportunity for me to discover deeper truths about myself. Every moment is an invitation for me to grant others the space they need to be themselves. Within me exists a world of awe and splendor, and every morning is a reminder of my innate obligation to participate in my own majesty. This life is my inheritance as a human being and I will claim it by living as fully as I possibly can through mindful and compassionate participation.”

“May any reward I receive be recycled through my service to others.”

Here are some basic intentions you can set for yourself each morning:

  • I will identify and honor my needs.
  • When I notice my defense mechanisms present, I will be aware and take the next right action.
  • I will make time for myself, for self-awareness even if it’s just five minutes.
  • I will have at least one genuine conversation.
  • I will nourish my body and eat one warm meal.
  • I will truly listen when someone else is talking to me instead of planning what I want to say next.
  • I will disconnect from my electronics 30 minutes before bed.
  • I will take a moment of gratitude.
  • I will do some form of physical activity for at least 45 minutes.
  • I will light a candle or burn incense when I get home to ground myself.
  • When I notice my mind thinking about the future, I will bring myself back to the present moment.
  • I recognize that I have flaws, and I will embrace them with love and forgiveness.
  • I will take actions not to isolate myself.
  • I will practice forgiveness to those I am angry at or feel resentful toward.
  • I will be mindful, especially when I eat, shower, brush my teeth, and walk.
  • I will recognize the labels and judgments I have and practice releasing them.
  • I will honor myself and let go of the need to people-please, even when it makes me uncomfortable.
  • I will ask for what I want and need with no shame. 
  • I will talk back to my inner critic when it wants to keep me insecure and paralyzed in fear.
  • I will open my heart and mind to learning something new today.

Dr. Mari Richko has been working in the holistic health field for more than 20 years applying her background in Integrative Medicine, Body-Centered Psychotherapy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Body Therapies such as Zen Shiatsu. Mari is well known in the addiction community for her work in enhancing recovery for those suffering from mental and physical ailments. She utilizes mindfulness, body awareness, Internal Family Systems, and yoga psychology in her work with clients. Mari is the owner of The Center for Authentic Living and Director of Programs and Integrative Services at The Awakening Center. She is an avid lecturer on combining psychotherapy and the Five Elements of Chinese Medicine as an educational tool for recovery. She also runs the YogaTalk therapy group every other Sunday at The Awakening Center.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Meditation Monday: Self-Regulation



By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC

In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates a weekly meditation group at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or nancyhalltac@gmail.com

We’ve all had the experience in which we feel that our emotions and nervous system have minds of their own. We feel the poke of anxiety, which might trigger anxiety about anxiety. “I’m not going to feel anxious! Just calm down!” That generally never works. We cannot wrestle our emotions into submission.

Self-regulating takes a different mindset. And it starts with self-compassion. The body cannot calm itself nor can emotions be processed unless the experience is fully understood. Unfortunately, many feel shame and embarrassment over having strong emotions.

Everyone’s level of sensitivity is different, and those who feel emotions intensely are not weaker or “less together” than someone with a steadier baseline. But coping with life challenges can become tough for someone who is easily triggered.

Meditation can help build emotional regulation tools. I recently created a guided meditation that gently prompts participants into feeling low levels of anxiety followed by calming cues. The meditator has the experience of tolerating the anxiety in a safe environment and begins to track the natural ebb and flow of the emotions.

In this “Unpredictable Path” meditation, an image of a smooth, stable path is called to mind. At some point, the path becomes a bit more challenging—perhaps it becomes muddy or rocky. Nothing too treacherous; but not as relaxing as the start of the path. The meditator notices any physical responses to the change in the path—nervous stomach? Increase heartrate? Then the path settles back into its initial calm state. This cycle is repeated a few times, with the challenging portions getting a bit rougher each time but never too intense or really dangerous. Prompts to focus on breathing are given throughout.

Just imagining a slippery or steep path can elicit a physical response; and returning to the stable path brings the individual to a state of calm. And while this exercise taps into only a fraction of some real-life challenges, we can at least learn that becoming mindful and recognizing natural physical responses is normal. Shifting to a position of self-compassion allows us to see solutions that might have been obscured by our self-criticism and shame.

Self-regulation covers a wide range of responses—from taking oneself into a state of complete relaxation to preventing further escalation or arousal. Meditation offers a supportive forum to practice this important skill. So stop power-struggling with your anxiety and try a gentler approach!


Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC is a staff therapist and the intake coordinator at The Awakening Center. In addition to seeing clients for individual therapy, she leads the weekly meditation group and co-leads the Somatic-Experience-Informed Trauma Healing Group. Check and subscribe out her blog “All Shapes and Sizes,” which appears on Chicago Tribune’s media partner ChicagoNow.com.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Meditation Monday: The Candle Gaze



By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC

In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates a weekly meditation group at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or nancyhalltac@gmail.com

“My mind keeps wandering!” It is perfectly natural to become distracted during meditation, but often, we get discouraged and start believing we’re “doing it wrong.” Meditation can become very frustrating when the distraction is followed by self-criticism, which just leads to more distraction.

It takes time to accept our challenges with self-compassion, so in the meantime, using a technique that facilitates focusing can be helpful

The Candle Meditation technique can help build focus but also takes some practice and guidance. But the technique gives the practitioner a relief from self-critical thoughts that can be so discouraging. 

Preparation

Choose your candle carefully. A scented candle is fine as long as the fragrance is agreeable to you. Sneezing and having an itchy nose do not exactly foster relaxation and focus. You want a good-sized flame, so make sure the wick isn’t trimmed too short. Position the candle so that it is at eye level or slightly below. You want it directly in front of you so that you don’t have to turn your head.

The room should be dimly lit to avoid eyestrain; make sure the candle is placed away from breezes or drafts. You want the flame to be as still as possible. 

Meditation

Start by taking a few deep breaths to center yourself. Then allow your gaze to softly rest on the flame. Try to remain as still as possible. Allow the flame to become slightly out of focused. When your eyes become somewhat uncomfortable or begin to water a bit, close your eyes and focus on the after image. Once it fades, return your gaze to the candle. 

Contemplation

As you practice, you might notice that objects in your periphery fade away and all you are aware of is the candle. This is when you can focus your energy toward something virtuous that the candle represents. The candle can allow you to shift into a type of lovingkindness meditation: 
“May light of acceptance replace darkness of fear and hatred.”
“May light of knowledge replace darkness of ignorance.”
“May light of kindness replace darkness of selfishness.”
Follow your breath and imagine you are inhaling candle light, allowing the glow to fill the dark places in your mind and body. 

Completion

When you feel ready, allow your focus to expand to the room around you. Give yourself a few minutes to sit quietly before returning to your activities.

Experiment with this meditation, finding what works for you. See if you notice a difference when you practice other meditation techniques. Introduce music or calming sounds—try different candles. Customize your Candle Meditation and enjoy the results!


Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC is a staff therapist and the intake coordinator at The Awakening Center. In addition to seeing clients for individual therapy, she leads the weekly meditation group and co-leads the Somatic-Experience-Informed Trauma Healing Group. Check and subscribe out her blog “All Shapes and Sizes,” which appears on Chicago Tribune’s media partner ChicagoNow.com.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Meditation Monday: Stepping Out of the Drama



By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC

In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates a weekly meditation group at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or nancyhalltac@gmail.com

Living in this world means having to be among people. And people are stressful. They are also wonderful, kind, and compassionate, but, boy, they can get on your nerves. And we can’t always avoid the ones who rile us up the most. So what do we do?

  1. Accept that we don’t have control over others. Most people are motivated by good intentions and even the rudest person probably feels his or her behavior is completely justified. But we often hold on to the hope that the individual will change—and we get upset when that doesn’t happen. Maya Angelou said “When someone shows you who they are, believe them—the first time.”Accepting that we have no control over another person’s behavior does not mean that we approve or that we have to allow ourselves to be abused. Accepting allows us to assess how we are affected so that we can then make changes needed. This is where a loving kindness meditation might be helpful. 
  2. Take a step back. Sometimes everything can feel so immediate and right in your face. We have a hard time seeing the big picture or remembering that it’s a big universe. Taking time to connect with the expanse of our world can give us a little perspective and might open up other avenues for coping. For example, a meditation that guides your awareness to yourself, the room, the city, state, and continuing outward not only gives your mind a break from the intense emotion of a conflict but also reminds you that you are part of larger experience. You have control over what you want your life focus to be. You can’t avoid conflicts and emotional upset, but you can control how much energy and mindspace you’re going to rent to them.
  3. Allow for self-compassion. When we react emotionally to another person, we often make the situation worse by beating ourselves up for getting upset. “Why do I let him get to me?!” Your response is what it is. Allow yourself to be curious how you’re reacting. Stay in touch with your body—are you tightening up, clenching your jaw, breathing shallowly? Notice those things with compassion. A physical or emotional response is not a sign of weakness or failure—it’s simply information, data to help you determine how to deal with this situation or person.


Allowing for acceptance of ourselves and others along with inviting in some objectivity can also help us see how we might be making situations and relationships even more difficult. And while you can’t change or control another, a change in your response will affect the dynamic and potentially alleviate stress for both of you.


Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC is a staff therapist and the intake coordinator at The Awakening Center. In addition to seeing clients for individual therapy, she leads the weekly meditation group and co-leads the Somatic-Experience-Informed Trauma Healing Group. Check and subscribe out her blog “All Shapes and Sizes,” which appears on Chicago Tribune’s media partner ChicagoNow.com.