I teach Reiki and mindfulness and I’m operating on autopilot

awareness
Photo by Janice E. Lodato

This article also appears on the Huffington Post.

The title of this post is 100% accurate at times. This is a difficult thing to admit but it’s true: sometimes I’m on autopilot and walk around with an almost complete lack of awareness of my thoughts and of the present moment.

Awareness of my lack of awareness came about in the following way: I have a new, highly demanding job that calls for lots of my attention and time. When I finally carved out some time for writing, an activity that brings me joy and fulfillment, I found I had nothing to say.

My thoughts were not clear, my intention was lost, and the voice in my head that creates a narrative was silent.

There are so many reasons for this situation. First, there is the lack of time spent reflecting on ideas. I haven’t been participating in one of my other favorite activities: staring out a window and just thinking. It may look like I’m doing nothing or that I’m not in the present moment, but I’m in a very present place of engaging with an idea, only in my mind and nowhere else. This feeds my writing.

Second, there is the lack of time spent taking in ideas. Oh, there are plenty of ideas at work that swirl around all day about technology and process issues, but I’m talking about, what are for me, the big ideas. The ideas about what it means to live a meaningful life; what it means to be human; and what it means to be kind and loving. One of the things that feed my writing is reading articles and books that explore these big ideas.

In all honesty, I haven’t been doing those two things and it’s creating a void in my ability to write and think creatively.

Now things aren’t all bad, I’ve been maintaining my self-Reiki practice and I meditate, eat well, and exercise regularly. I spend time with friends and connect with my family, but let’s be honest here, I’m on autopilot.

I stick to my routine like a drill sergeant and have no wiggle room for a healthy, long-term gaze out the window. So, I’m re-evaluating my workdays and my schedule in general to make sure there is open time for reading enriching materials and thinking, just thinking.

Perhaps I’m more mindful than I give myself credit for – I became aware of my lack of day-to-day, moment-to-moment awareness of my thoughts and I’m making changes to come back to that place of mindfulness.

And as I finished writing that, the previously silent wind chimes in my backyard, sang out – affirming my intention and awareness of the present moment.

Sat nam. I am. I am here now.

Wishing for you an abundance of loving awareness.

Mindfulness: Current Research

Mindful Meditation BuddhaMany people wonder, why should I meditate? What are the benefits? To me, the short answer is: “Because it works.” Then, of course, the next questions are: “How does it work? How will it help?” Simply put, meditation works by increasing awareness. To be mindful is to be aware of one’s experiences, both internal and external experiences. Mindfulness-based meditation helps one to become aware. By being aware, we are able to make better decisions, manage our mood, and activate more parts of our brain.

Now you may be asking, “But what difference will awareness make? What does the research show in how awareness changes our experiences / our human experience?”

Here’s what the research shows: (Courtesy of mindful.org) *

  • Mindfulness Relieves Anxiety and Improves Mood
    • A review of 39 previous studies involving 1,140 patients, by Professor Stefan Hofmann of Boston University, concluded that mindfulness is effective for relieving anxiety and improving mood.
  • Mindfulness May Keep Brains Young
    • A study by Dr. Eilnee Luders at UCLA School of Medicine, published in NeuroImage, shows that long-term mindfulness practitioners have greater brain volume, stronger neural connections, and less atrophy than non-practitioners. This suggest mindfulness may keep brains young and even help prevent dementia.
  • Mindfulness can lead to better Decision Making
    • A study conducted at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute by Dr. Ulrich Kirk, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, finds that people who practice mindfulness use different parts of their brains in the decision-making process. This is most visible in their ability to react more rationally, rather than emotionally, when faced with unfair situations.
  • Mindfulness Changes Brain Structure
    • Research published in 2011 in Neuroimaging by Sara Lazar and her team at Massachusetts General Hospital, reveals that an 8-week mindfulness training program makes measurable changes in brain structures associated with learning and memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress.
  • Mindfulness Reduces Stress
    • A study conducted by Britta Holzel at Massachusetts General Hospital, and published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, finds that mindfulness-based stress reduction can lead to structural changes in the amygdala, a brain structure that plays a crucial role in stress responses.
  • Mindfulness Increases Immune Response
    • A study by Richard A. Davidson and Jon Kabat-Zinn, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, indicates that mindfulness increases both positive feelings and antibody responses to immune system challenges.
  • Mindfulness Enhances Attention, Mood, and Memory
    • A 2010 Wake Forest University study, published in Consciousness and Cognition, shows that only 4 days of mindfulness training can enhance the ability to sustain focused attention. It also shows significant improvements in mood, visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and cognition.
  • Mindfulness Reduces Irritable Bowel Syndrome
    • A 2010 Swedish study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry finds that 10 weeks of mindfulness training results in a 50% reduction in IBS symptoms, as well as other positive outcomes.
  • And others:
    • A study at Duke University shows that mindfulness can reduce the frequency of binge eating by as much as 75%
    • Patients in recovery for substance abuse at the University of Washington were 50% less likely to relapse if they practiced mindfulness

Two of these studies strongly relate to my experience of practicing mindfulness. For instance, the study of meditators who play the ultimatum game concludes:

“In summary, when assessing unfairness in the Ultimatum Game, meditators activate a different network of brain areas compared with controls enabling them to uncouple negative emotional reactions from their behavior. These findings highlight the clinically and socially important possibility that sustained training in mindfulness meditation may impact distinct domains of human decision-making.” (from: “Interoception drives increased rational decision-making in meditators playing the ultimatum game” Frontiers in Neuroscience, 5:49)

The key phrase here is that they were able to “uncouple negative emotional reactions from their behavior.” This seems to me to be one of the main benefits of mindfulness practices like meditation, yoga, and Reiki. The ability to uncouple my emotions from my actions is embodied when my life is in flow – where I feel in control of myself in the healthiest of ways, i.e., where I am aware of how feel (and feel it) however, I mindfully choose how to act in any given situation. Because I have practiced this dance between emotions and action on my meditation cushion, when the opportunity arises in “real” life situations, I’m able to discern between my emotions and my actions and, more often, choose wisely.

The other study that really spoke to me was the one that examined the experience of participants who trained in mindfulness for only 4 days.

A 2010 Wake Forest University study, published in Consciousness and Cognition, shows that only 4 days of mindfulness training can enhance the ability to sustain focused attention. It also shows significant improvements in mood, visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and cognition. (from “Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training” Consciousness and Cognition, Volume 19, Issue 2, June 2010, pages 597-605.)

In my experience, it doesn’t take a lot of sessions to start gaining the rewards — of course, the more consistent the practice, the better. It is indeed a practice. The more practices, the greater the rewards. The more automatic the responses become and, as some of these studies point out, one will start to experience changes in physiology, including brain chemistry.

Hopefully, you’ll find this research as compelling as I do and you’ll join us on the cushion today!

Wishing you the gift of awareness!

 

* Resources:

  • Mindfulness Relieves Anxiety and Improves Mood
    • “The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Volume 78, Issue 2, 2 April 2010, pages 169-183.
  • Mindfulness May Keep Brains Young
    • “The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: Larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter” NeuroImage, Volume 45, Issue 3, 15 April 2009, Pgaes 672-678.
  • Mindfulness can lead to better Decision Making
    • “Interoception drives increased rational decision-making in meditators playing the ultimatum game” Frontiers in Neuroscience, 5:49
  • Mindfulness Changes Brain Structure
    • “Mindfulness practice leads to increase in regional brain gray matter density” Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, Volume 191, Issue 1, 30 January 20111, pages 36-43
  • Mindfulness Reduces Stress
    • “Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdale” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Vol. 5, Issue 1, pages 11-17.

Reiki and Insomnia

Sleeping Girl, insomniaSometimes I wake up at 3:30 a.m. and can’t fall back to sleep. Does this type of insomnia ever happen to you? Is it a crisis for you? Do you lie in bed waiting for the alarm to go off or the sun to come up? Are your first thoughts? “I’m awake already??!! This is going to ruin my day.”

For me, that early wake up can be a gift. Sure, I’m short on sleep for the day and may need to turn in early that evening. And I may be fighting sleep at 4 in the afternoon. The gift, however, is that I get to lie in bed and practice self-Reiki for an hour. This dark, quiet time is an incredible gift. While the house is quiet and my family sleeps, I can do a full hour of self-Reiki – enjoying this self-care practice without being late for work or any other obligation.

Now you may say, “But the Reiki did not cure your insomnia.” That’s true, it did not. I was fully awake and allowed myself to remain awake – I didn’t fight it, I just engaged in a quiet activity that I enjoy. Then you may ask, “But I have chronic insomnia. Will Reiki help with that?” Yes, let’s explore that.

Now, if you’ve been reading this blog you know that Reiki is not a cure-all. However, it is a powerful healing modality and one that can have a positive impact on insomnia. It does so in two ways:

  1. Reiki brings on the relaxation response.
  2. Reiki quiets the mind, which brings about greater awareness and mindfulness, which in turn allows one insight into the underlying issues that may be keeping one awake.

The number one outcome of receiving a Reiki session is relaxation. When we’re relaxed, we sleep better, our bodies heal better, we think more clearly, and we relate to each other more genuinely. My clients who have had insomnia report deep relaxation during their Reiki session and sometimes a deep sleep during the session as well. One client, named Ruth, called me the day after her first session and reported sleeping straight through for 7 hours. She continued to come in for weekly sessions for four weeks and she reported that insomnia became an infrequent occurrence.

The awareness brought about by a Reiki session can also help with insomnia. Another client, named, Abby, was suffering from insomnia that left her with 2-3 hours of sleep per night. She would fall asleep immediately at night and then wake up after a few hours, unable to go back to sleep. After her first Reiki session, she reported feeling very relaxed and refreshed.

When she came back for her second session she said she realized several things about her routine and bedroom that were keeping her awake. She had made some changes including limiting caffeine in the afternoon and (she said this was most important) turning her bed so she no longer faced a window that had a bright street lamp outside of it. She said she also placed a darker curtain over the window. So in this way Reiki helped Abby to mindfully address her insomnia.

How has Reiki helped you with sleep and insomnia?* Please share your comments below.

~Wishing you a deep, restful sleep.

 

*Please note: Reiki is not a cure-all. There are many factors that contribute to a good night’s sleep. What one ate during the day, the level of physical fatigue (has the body been exercised during the day?), have there been relaxation experiences during the day (we can’t expect to know how to relax by practicing once per day while in bed hoping to go to sleep!), and a calm mind that has at least some peace about how things are. There are many more, including medications and physical conditions that interrupt sleep. Please remember that Reiki is just one factor in your self-care toolkit. Though I find it to be a very powerful one, you’ll need to find the one(s) that work for you.  Wishing you abundant good health.

Should . . . Shoumd: Reflections on Non-Judgmental Awareness

At the beginning of my sophomore year in college I was delivering some papers to the counseling center at my university. One of the counselorsShould image by Janice E. Lodato met me in the waiting room and asked how things were going during those first few weeks of classes and settling back into the routine of college life.  I don’t recall what I said to her, but I do remember very clearly what she said to me, “Do you know how many times you just said, ‘should’?”  I was startled by her question, but startled in a good way. I left the counseling center a lot calmer, quieter and reflecting on how many times I say, “should.”

That was many years ago, but it is still a question and a practice that I use today to hone in on how I’m treating myself. It brings awareness to my self-talk and helps me to know if the judgmental voice in my head has taken over.

This month, I’ve been challenging myself, with a practice I call “Should . . . Shoumd.” Yes, I know, “shoumd” is not a word. For me it’s just a sound that reminds me to say to myself, “Does that really matter? What underlying values are bringing up that should-statement for you right now?” This practice is like the thought modification that you might do with a rubber band on your wrist. Each time you hear the thought in your mind, you snap the rubber band on your wrist. The same for each time I say to myself, “I should do . . .” or “I should have said . . .,” I then say to myself, “Should . . . Shoumd.”

This is a playful way for me to work with non-judgmental awareness in my day-to-day life because a lot of times the “shoulds” are outside pressures that don’t necessarily align with my values, don’t respect me as an individual, and were prescribed by someone else. The first time I went to Kripalu Center for a yoga workshop with Todd Norian, I remember his words to observe our bodies and minds — as we were in difficult poses or holding a pose for a long time — with non-judgmental awareness — just seeing what is.  I love the openness and acceptance of this practice. Granted, there are times in our day-to-day lives where this point of view is not possible and could be dangerous. I’m not advocating for no-judging. There are times when judging keeps us safe and helps us to take the right action that respects ourselves and others.  However, it is helpful to drop into this non-judgmental space and just observe what is.

My practice this month might go like this. Here’s my mental dialog on a Saturday morning: “I should do the laundry, wash the dishes, feed the dog, go running, clean the house, practice Reiki and yoga.” Say what?! “Should . . . Shoumd” What aligns here with my highest self? What really needs to be done now? Hmmm, maybe the laundry can wait. Ah, pause, hand on heart, empowerment symbol, ah, yes, sit on my zafu cushion, stare out the window, breathe, calm, align with the universe. Now . . . choose and go forward.  That’s my higher self, my less judged self.

“Should . . . Shoumd” is a practice for me to release some of the judgmentalness that I throw at myself. It’s a helpful tiny space.  Hope you find it helpful too.

Wishing you love, light, and the spaciousness of non-judgmental awareness.