Monday, September 19, 2016

Pausing to reduce Stress and Anxiety

A fabulous stress reduction idea was created by meaning to pause®.  It's called the pause braclet.  It gives a "private but deliberate" reminder (by means of a gentle vibration) periodically to help people stay focused and present.  The reminder helps people to stay aware and perhaps take an inventory of where they are with their thinking, breathing, or behavior in the present moment.

Staying focused in the present is not an easy task, but with practice we can get better at it as time goes on.  There are many methods like the pause bracelet that can help us to bring our awareness to the present moment.

At the Zen monastery of Plum Village in the south of France--a monastery created by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh--there is something called The Bell of Mindfulness.  At the monastery, a bell tone is made periodically so everyone in the village can hear it and at which time they pause momentarily.  On their website they have posted,  "When we hear one of these mindfulness bells ring, we stop all of our conversations and whatever we are doing, and bring our awareness to our breathing.  The ringing bell has called out to us:  Listen, listen.  This wonderful sound brings me back to my true home."

The point is, that we can use many things throughout our day to nudge us a bit to take a moment and pause.  The sound of an airplane going overhead.  The ding of a new incoming email on our phone.  The sound of the engine in our car as we turn the key.

Reminders don't have to be just auditory, either.  They can be from a variety of our senses, such as each time we see a red light and slow our car to a stop.  Pause.  Each time we smell the aroma of our neighbor's fireplace.  Pause.  Each time we feel the warmth of clothes freshly being lifted from the dryer.  Pause.  When the cat meows.  When you hear a door close or open.  Pause.

You can decide what your "Mindfulness Bell", or bell(s) will be, but whatever they are, be sure they have associations for you with your willingness to pause for just a moment so that you can become aware of your true self, which only exists... right now.

Thanks to Eric Walker for his lovely photo - Pause

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Flowers and Relaxation: A Simple Way to Reduce Stress

When it comes to relaxation and reducing stress, flowers have a multi-dimensional way of helping.  Not only are they beautiful, colorful, and pleasing to the eyes, but they hold the additional advantages of bringing aroma-therapy into our lives.

Contrary to popular belief, flowers are not just for women and not just gifts to give others.  Getting some flowers for yourself--be it from your own garden or from the local florist--is a pleasant treat that can enhance your surroundings and contribute to your overall level of stress reduction.

Lavender flowers have traditionally been associated with relaxation and are used in many stress reducing products such as bath oils and pillows.  Rose flowers are frequently used to create soothing lotions for the skin and gentle room fresheners.  But the most immediate reward from live flowers is their soft beauty and pleasing smell.

Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement.  The practitioner that arranges the piece works to become one with the work of art, and to minimize the use of effort and items.  In other words, to simplify the arrangement while simplifying oneself, and one's life.

We are not all skilled Ikebana practitioners, but using our creativity, we can arrange a flower vase for ourselves that we can enjoy for several days at a time.  It's okay to explore with flowers.  Maybe trying some you've never seen before, or going right for the ones that catch your eye.  Try a new arrangement each week and eventually you may find flowers that become your favorites to have near your meditation space.

One final word of advise:  If you have pets, be sure to do a little investigating before placing certain flowers around your home or relaxation space.  Some flowers, like daffodils and azaleas might be dangerous for your furry friends.

Thanks to Richard Riccardi for his beautiful photo (top) - Flower, and to Ligia Miranda (lower) for the beautiful arrangement - Streliza1

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Colorado Tai Chi for Relaxation

Finding various ways to relax has become one of the most sought after activities of the century.  There are healthy ways to relax and unhealthy ways.  We’ve all witness the unhealthy ways and maybe even experienced them first-hand, such as excessive use of alcohol or drugs, idleness on the computer with video games and surfing the net, or excessive spending.

Healthy ways of relaxation require a little more patience, but bring with them the long term reward of reduced stress.  That’s why learning an art such as Tai Chi is well worth one's time and effort.  It takes diligence, but like any good skill, it’s best to keep in mind that the art of Tai Chi is never really complete.  Instead, it's a life-time of refinement and a reflection of one's impermanence and intimate connection to the universe itself.

Tai Chi has been called a moving meditation.  It's slow and mesmerizing movement comes from the present-moment practice of mindfulness.  It has its roots deeply planted in Taoism--roughly, a spiritual and philosophical belief in one's connection to all things--especially to nature.

There are classes offered at many local recreation centers, including the North Jeffco Community Rec Center in Arvada Colorado.  You can find info about current classes at my website at  Be prepared to arrive with a Beginner's Mind, which simply means you begin with no expectations about what Tai Chi should be.  Emptying your mind of all concepts allows for new learning.  If your mind is too full and overflowing with ideas, there's simply no room for new lessons.

Until then, here are two of my favorite online videos of Tai Chi at it's best, and I think you will find them overall breath-takingly beautiful and relaxing to watch:

Thanks to Tetsushi Klmura for the great photo -- Tai Chi Chuan

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Coping with Stressful News Events

As I write this blog entry, the world is absorbing the newest story of another mass shooting in the United States.  Considered the worst mass shooting in US history—the event at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando Florida, has once again shocked and stunned us all.  As with Columbine and the “Theater Shootings”, the media is rushing to cover the stories and bring us ongoing updates about the event.  Our hearts go out to the victim’s families, to the first responders, to the businesses that will be affected, closed, or those that may live in fear of copy-cat offenders, and to our GLBTQ community which has shown great strength and determination over the years to maintain pride and hard-fought-for rights.

When stories are reported of tragedy like this, or of other forms of murder, violence, pain, and of course mass killings, it can be quite stressful to listen to, especially if you are the kind of person who is mesmerized by the rapid reporting and constant flow of news that comes from “special updates” and “special reports” that may go on for hours.  Many have actually opted to not even listen to such news stories because it upsets them so much.  But we can’t close our ears and eyes to what’s happening around us in the world.  When crisis and tragedy strike, and the media is pumping our minds full of the play-by-play, gory details and play-backs of every police report and eye-witness, it’s important to have a game plan in place to limit unnecessary and repeated exposure to information, and then find positive outlets in which to send the energy generated by our fear, pain, disgust, and anger in a positive direction, where we can try to gain some sense of balance again in a sometimes confusing and unpredictable world.

First, when tragedy strikes and you’ve tuned into the TV or Internet to find out what’s going on, be sure to limit how long you are going to spend getting the basic information.  Watching the news, reading a few versions of the story, and possibly noting the basic photos among the media should be enough for you to get the basic story and details.  One thing you don’t want to do is stay tuned in to a non-stop bombardment of stories for hours on end of what they know now--that they also knew an hour ago, and an hour before that.

Second, don’t go to the other extreme of isolating yourself from the information completely.  We cannot hide from the reality of the world and doing so leaves us at risk of being a part of the crowd that never learns from tragedy because we refuse to experience our tiny part in it and learn the lessons it has to offer.  Get the stories and basic information, limit the time exposure you will allow for hearing repeated stories, and then let yourself begin to process the information.

Finally, once you’ve had some time away from the repeated media stories, you can processes how you feel and what you think of the information you have in order to decide what it means to you personally, what lesson or lessons it holds for you, and most importantly, what positive action you plan to take to make a difference in the world based on these conclusion.  For instance, as I type this, hundreds have lined up at various locations in Orlando to donate blood needed to help all the surviving victims of this most recent shooting.

Maybe you know a friend, neighbor or acquaintance in the GLBTQ community you can call or email to give your support, rather than sitting in front of hours more of upsetting news or just shaking your head believing it’s someone else out there that will do the comforting.  This is how we get out of our heads, where all the thoughts are swirling that lead to increased stress and anxiety.  

In the end, take positive steps to move forward and take part in making change in the world. Tragedies will continue to come.  How you react to them may make a big difference in your level of stress and anxiety

                  It was Gandhi who said, “Be the Change You want to see in the World”.

Thanks to  James Hill for the great photo - Pride

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Relaxation in the Public Parks

Thanks to the Trust for Public Lands (TPL), we have a lot of wonderful parks preserved right in our cities and residential areas.  These great places have been plucked out and conserved so that we all have nice areas to go relax, fly kites, play with the dog, have a picnic, or just enjoy being around some semblance of nature.  A park is a great place to find green grass, trees, fountains, benches and tables, as well as bike paths or scenic views.

You've probably driven by one of these nice parks every day during your hectic and stressful work schedule without hardly giving it a glance, but when was the last time you actually stopped to enjoy the peacefulness of one of these great places?

Because many parks are preserved close to residential and business areas, it's convenient to wander in during your lunch hour or even on your break (if you get one), and steal away even 5 or 10 minutes of relaxation.  The parks tend to draw a little bit of wildlife as well, such as ducks and geese, and give us however-little of a brief reminder that the concrete and steel we exist in throughout our day is not really the environment of our origin, and certainly doesn't fit with our natural instincts.

Parks are designed with relaxation and leisure in mind.  They cater to the individual who wants a moment to rest -- to sit in the grass, look at the trees, or walk a lot slower than the usual rush-and-hurry of the typical hectic work day.  Parks are where the casual picnic takes place, or where you can chew on a blade of grass, fumbling with a fallen twig, or kick off your shoes and feel the earth and cool grass beneath you.

Modern humans live inside boxes now --inside wood, plastic and chalk walls.  Parks help bring us back to our senses and remind us we are not made of those things.  We are a part of nature and even a small taste of this nature -- preserved for us in the form of parks -- is a great way to check in with the pulse of life and your connection to it.  It's a way to remind yourself who you are, and where you come from.

It's hard for some to give up the gadgets to go and taste a little of this nature's delight, but if you can manage it, leave the cell phone and MP3 player in your car, or shut off in your bag.  Why spoil a good thing?

Thanks to Ryan Latta for the great photo

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Using Exercise to Reduce Stress

Daily exercise is vital to the overall well being of the human body and mind.  Without exercise, the muscles of the body begin to deteriorate and weaken and the subsequent results are a slew of problems from illness to injury, lack of motivation, as well as depression and anxiety.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, exercise is considered to be vital for mental fitness and for reducing stress.  On their website, which can be found at adaa, they have indicated that "exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins--chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers--and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress."

If the body is not tired at the end of the day due to lack of exertion, it may not be tired enough to sleep at bedtime.  This can lead to insomnia because the body has not tired itself out enough throughout the day with physical activity to actually need rest.  Working out a little every day helps tire the body out just enough to prepare it for a good night's sleep, and improved sleep--in turn--leads to less feelings of stress and anxiety.

Exercise doesn't have to be miserable or aggressive.  Just getting out for a walk or gentle bike ride is enough to get the blood flowing and help balance out one's breathing and oxygen flow.  Walking on a treadmill or running on an elliptical machine can help get the heart rate up, and lifting weights has been shown to help burn an increased number of calories, which is always helpful for overall heath.

So, when you're looking for ways to manage stress and anxiety, be sure you have not overlooked putting some physical activity on your daily schedule.  As long as your doctor feels your body is up to it, exercise certainly can't hurt.

Thanks to Bill Brooks for his great photo - Running

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Relaxation Exercises for the Eyes

The more we use computers and electronic devices for communication, the more strain we put on our eyes.  Many headaches and facial-muscle tension can be attributed to the strain involved in focusing on changing text and font sizes, as can setting our eyes on moving objects on our computer screens.  That’s why it’s important to learn a few exercises for relaxing the eyes throughout the day.

Two of the quickest ways to relax the eyes are:  Closing the eyes, and Distance Focusing.  Closing the eyes means just that.  Sitting back from your computer for just a moment and closing the eyes to relax all the muscles being used to focus on objects on your screen.  Many people avoid this exercise because they fear that if they close their eyes, they will fall asleep.  This is an understandable fear as statistics show that most people do not get enough sleep and are therefore tired prior to beginning their work day.  However, if you are disciplined or can set a brief and gentle timer, this method may work for you.

Distance Focusing is a way to get out from behind the computer (and the close proximity to the screen), and allow the eyes to focus on things much farther away.  If you can, go to a window and focus on distant objects or the horizon.  Mountains and even clouds are good targets to allow the eyes to shift from being focused just feet or inches away, to much farther distances.  Even just looking across a large room is a nice shift from the close-proximity-focusing of your computer screen or electronic device.

In addition, gently massaging the eyes over the top of the eyelids is another way to help the eyes take a break and relax from straining.  This can be done with the tips of the fingers, or the open palm of the hands.  Running your hands under warm or cool water first (depending on comfort level) can be helpful in introducing a calming sensation to the eyes.  If you wear contact lenses, you may want to massage the area near and around the eyes instead.

The human eyes are under much more strain than ever before in history, so it's very important that you take good care of them and know your limitations.  Looking at computer screens for prolonged periods of time can cause your eyes to dry out.  So it's crucial that you make a conscious effort to blink more frequently when you are doing work on your computer.  Don't push your eyes to extremes that are unnatural for them.  

Remember, the human body is not a machine.  It's a living organism and it needs rest.  The eyes were not meant to be used non-stop day and night and are certainly not meant to be exposed to light and stimulation without chances for rejuvenation.  The eyes need periodic times of rest and relaxation--just like the rest of the body does-- in order to recharge and function properly for us throughout our lives.

Thanks to banoootah_qtr for the great photo - just close your eyes...and dream