Categories
Mental Health neurological rehab Pre Natal and Post Natal

Use Your Neuroscience to Feel Fulfilled and Grateful Now

Have you ever noticed how you can spend most of your day dwelling on the past, or worrying about and planning your future, or agonizing over your circumstances? When we are so focused in the past and future, finding fulfillment and gratitude in what we are doing now can be impossible. How can we find happiness, fulfillment and gratitude in everyday life experiences when we place little mental attention on the now?

Our morning routine, sitting in traffic, soothing a crying baby, moving with persistent pain: We plan, we daydream, we ruminate; we take in our world through a lens of interpretation and add to our ever-evolving personal story.  This type of narrative thinking throughout our day is pre-programmed and habituated in our lives. We identify ourselves through the stories we create out of our past experiences and our goals for the future.

This type of narrative focus illuminates specific neural circuitry in the medial prefrontal cortex and memory regions including the hippocampus, as in a study by Norman A. S. Farb and colleagues. In this study, mindfulness training changed the neural pathway of experience.

Mindfulness is the practice of purposefully paying attention to the details of your experience as they arise and without judgment: monitoring the state of the body and mind, as we are immersed in an activity, through sensations, tastes, smells, sights, sounds, and thoughts. With direct experience, different regions of the brain become active, including the insula and anterior cingulate cortex, regions used in perceiving body sensations and attention!

Additionally, these two neural circuits are inversely correlated, which means that one is less active while the other is active. This is why when our neural circuitry is focused on the narrative and we feel anxious and stressed about a circumstance it helps to take a deep breath and connect with your sensations in the present moment. This way we can trigger our brains to enlist the insula and anterior cingulate cortex and suppress the narrative that is poisoning our experience. We can cultivate a feeling of being grateful, a feeling of being fulfilled and a feeling of being happy in each moment by tapping into our neuroscience!

 

 

3 steps to make use of your neuroscience to feel fulfilled and grateful now:

  1. Light up your insula. Practice focusing all of your attention to a direct sense, and do it often.
  2. Find a way of practicing mindfulness that fits into your everyday life.
  3. Notice and contrast how you feel when you are experiencing your experiences as they arise, in real-time vs. in your mental narrative, or going through the motions as you plan, dwell or anticipate.

 

I use this process in my everyday life experiences. For example, when my baby is crying, I like to focus on the sensation of her weight in my arms and the sensation of her breathing and mine as she is pressed against my chest. By keeping my insula active even in times that could be considered stressful, I am able to remain calm and grateful for each moment with her, even if she is inconsolable.

 

Not thinking about the past, future or yourself through a narrative story, but experiencing the information presented to all of your senses in real time, allows us to be more adaptable in our interactions.  By focusing on the present moment, we experience life unencumbered by our past, habits, expectations or assumptions, therefore cultivating a feeling of fulfillment and gratitude in each moment.

 

Find a way of practicing mindfulness that fits into your everyday life. With enough practice, you can change your neuroscience and create greater gratitude and fulfillment in your everyday life experiences.

 

Categories
Pre Natal and Post Natal

The Big Reveal

Truth is more than not telling lies.

Truth is doing what feels right, going with my gut.

Truth is not having thoughts that conflict with my actions.

 

If we are doing things that are untruthful, not following our inner guidance, thinking differently than we act, how does that affect how we feel? For me, it causes stress, anxiety, frustration, guilt and fear. This swirl of emotions leads to more thoughts and more emotions and more stress, poisoning my experience.

When I found out I was pregnant, I wanted to wait until I made it through my first trimester to tell my employer. Hot flashes, nausea, dizziness, vomiting: I could barely pick my head up from the bathroom floor. At only eight weeks pregnant I was bloated and sick around the clock. Trying to hide this at work was a nightmare! As an occupational therapist in a hospital setting, I remember having to run out of a patient’s room, unsure if I was going to make it to the bathroom in time.

I couldn’t wait to tell my friends and family I was pregnant. Telling my employer, on the other hand, was nerve-wracking. What would she say? What would her reaction be? Would my job be in jeopardy? My actions conflicted with my thoughts. My gut said, I should just tell her and the rest of my coworkers. As I kept this secret, the stress, anxiety and uneasiness surrounding work continued to build.

Satya, truth in Sanskrit, is one of the observances, or yamas, in Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga. So, why is truth one of the observances? It is not to prevent you from lying. Because what is a lie if it doesn’t disturb us? In my experience, a lie is only detrimental to my well being if it causes me to feel subsequent guilt, or fear of being caught, or another stressful emotion. Truth is more than not telling lies. Truth is doing what feels right, going with your gut. Truth is not having thoughts that conflict with your actions. When you are in conflict with the truth, how does that affect how you feel? For me, a myriad of negative thoughts and feelings prevent me from feeling fulfilled and happy in my life, and that is why Satya, truth, is an important observance: to cultivate omnipresent peace, well being and fulfillment in life we must be truthful with ourselves.

After a few days, I revealed that I was pregnant to my manager and coworkers (although my “morning sickness” persisted throughout my entire first trimester!). Ahhh relief. Their reaction didn’t matter (even though in my case it was positive and supportive); I was finally liberated from my own inner conflict and peace and happiness followed. My thoughts became calm, compared to the frenzied storm of thoughts when I was in conflict with truth. I enabled my energy to focus on what was important, taking care of myself, and my baby. This is the experience of Satya.

Check it out in your own experience: How does it make you feel to be in conflict with your own inner truth?

Categories
Pre Natal and Post Natal

Pregnancy: Transcending the samskara of the way it “should” be

Pregnancy is hard. At least it was for me. What made it harder was all the pre-programming in my head that I had assimilated over the years of the way pregnancy was supposed to be.  In yoga, we call these deeply ingrained impressions samskaras. We develop samskaras from past life experiences: interactions with people and the world around us. Our experiences condition us to react in a certain way under certain circumstances.  For me, pregnancy was a time that I was supposed to be almost blissful, but how could I be blissful when I couldn’t get through a day without getting sick or passing out?  Pregnancy and motherhood demand so much of the body.  The changes inside and outside of our bodies that come with carrying a baby can take a toll on our well-being and our overall health.

When expecting, we experience:

[one_half]

  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Pelvic movement
  • Weight gain
  • Stretching of the skin (stretch marks)
  • General aches and pains
  • Back pain
  • Heartburn
  • Loosening joints
  • Stretching of the abdominal wall
  • Postural changes to support the carried weight of the baby

[/one_half][one_half_last]

  • Breast changes
  • Constipation
  • Blood pressure changes: lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting, sweating
  • Fatigue, trouble sleeping and insomnia
  • Hormonal changes
  • Mood changes
  • Gestational diabetes[/one_half_last]

Each change that we experience in our body, affects another area of the body, and has the potential to affect both our physical and mental health; it is all connected after all! Why didn’t anyone tell me about these changes? In my opinion, no one wants to say “congratulations, your body is in for a horrific rollercoaster!”

So, my preprogrammed idea that pregnancy was supposed to be blissful:  I should feel more beautiful, I should be glowing (when I was looking green) caused a lot of mental strife on the days I didn’t experience just that.  I was so happy to be pregnant and that everything was going well, but I expected pregnancy to be a certain way (the glowing, drunk with happiness and feeling amazing), and my experience told me otherwise. So every time I would be in pain, sick, or disconnected from my experience, I would feel anxious, upset and frustrated.

So what did I do to alter my experience and cultivate happiness in my pregnancy, no matter what the circumstances?

[box style=”light” rounded=”true”]

1. Identify the samskara. What pre-programming from your experiences is coloring the way you interact with your circumstances?

2. Notice it and observe what happens. Notice when that samskara comes up and you are getting anxious, frustrated, afraid, or overcome with thoughts about your circumstances.  Observe how your experience changes when you are overcome with those thoughts, and how you prevent happiness in that moment. How and when do these feelings arise? Sometimes it helps to keep a log or a journal to help you get clear. Be honest with yourself!

3. Neutralize the samskara. Once you are clear on what arises and what the trigger is, plant a seed to do something about it!  Try to extract yourself from the story your mind is creating and shift your reaction to a calculated response, where you deliberately think the opposite, calm yourself by focusing on your breathing, or repeat a positive thought to yourself.

4. Observe what happens. How do you feel emotionally, what are your sensations, what are your thoughts when you allow yourself to be in the situation without having a reaction that sets you over the edge? (Still overcome with thoughts? Go back to step two and try to get a bit more clear about what is going on.[/box]

 

Realizing that my feeling that pregnancy should be a certain way was part of a samskara helped me take a step back.  Once I Identified the samskara, I was able to notice what circumstances triggered me to feel overcome with thoughts and emotions about the way pregnancy should be.  In those situations I observed how when I allowed the idea that pregnancy should be blissful to color my experience, my experience of pregnancy became frustrating, emotional, and triggered more thoughts that prevented me from happiness in that moment.  Journaling helped me to get clear on what was going on.  Then when the samskara appeared, I ruthlessly focused my attention on breath, just breath, nothing else.  I was able see that if I committed my attention in that moment to breath, then even though my circumstances didn’t change, I found happiness in that moment, no matter what.

I was finally able to recognize that pregnancy is different for everyone, and the uncomfortable roller coaster ride that it was for me was just perfect as it was. It eventually delivered me the most perfect beautiful baby girl, my daughter.

Categories
Pre Natal and Post Natal

Prenatal Yoga: What to expect

When you are expecting, prenatal yoga can help you stay fit, prepare your body for labor and promote your baby’s health. Prenatal yoga offers a dynamic approach to affect your fitness level as well as your mental health.
Here are a few things you can expect from a prenatal yoga class:

[h2]Breathing or Pranayama:[/h2] Expect guided breathing techniques that encourage attention and focus on the sensation of the breath. Deep breathing techniques with focused awareness ensure an abundant supply of oxygen for you and your baby.  Prenatal yoga breathing techniques may also help you manage shortness of breath and endurance during pregnancy and work through contractions during labor.

[h2]Postures (Asanas) and physical movement:[/h2]  Step-by-step instruction for physical exercise ensures that you can safely increase your strength, flexibility, balance and muscular endurance during your pregnancy.  Prenatal yoga exercises can help your body prepare for childbirth and promote a speedy return of your pre-pregnancy body by tapping into muscle memory.  Props (blankets, blocks or straps) may be used to provide support and comfort.  Exercises are coordinated with the movement of the breath to promote a connection between mind and body.  The level of exercise and types of movements will depend on where you are in your pregnancy. Be sure to let your instructor know if you have any specific pain or concerns before you begin.

[h2]Guided focus or intention:[/h2] Because the mind and body are deeply connected, we can decrease stress and anxiety, and cure the prenatal blues by focusing on this relationship through a guided meditation technique, intention or focus.  You will likely be encouraged to use mindfulness strategies or maintain your attention on a specific sensation in the body or your breath and notice what mental tendencies (thoughts) arise while in class.  You might be asked to experiment with your mental habits and reactions to become more aware of how they affect your mood or change sensation in the body.   Yoga techniques can help to create fulfillment in each moment despite what the external circumstances may be.