Here are some recent articles from my newsletter, in case you missed them. If you would like to subscribe, please send me an email, or use the form on the home page. I send approximately one every 2-3 weeks.
December 4, 2011
How are things going for you this holiday
season so far? I hope the biggest worry you
have is what gifts you want to pick out for
your loved ones and how to avoid gaining
unwanted holiday pounds.
I have a stress-busting idea for you, that
may sound a bit simple, or a bit impossible
depending on how you choose to look at it.
What if all of the extra things you do this time
of year were 100% optional? The baking, shopping,
parties, wrapping, etc. For that matter, what
if many of the "regular" things you do were
Now I know this is hard if you live in a world
where you are the bringer of holiday cheer in
your family, or if you have children. But I want
to pose the radical option of simplifying this
The economy has become a great excuse for
paring down. I know this isn't a boost-the-economy
view, but it's a good one for stress reduction.
What if you actually did make some of your gifts (as
some are suggesting for various reasons),
or tell those people in your life that you normally
give to that this year you're trimming back a bit.
If it's children, there might be disappointment. But
is it just me, or do you feel like you have enough
stuff. (I think this is a result of recently moving
for my part.) Maybe gifts become more about spending
time doing something together and creating
Too Hallmark? Well, here's part two of the idea, and
this has made a huge impact with clients who have
been able to make this mental transition: If you're
stuck believing you do everything because you have to,
try changing it around to take responsibility for your
choice in the matter.
Here's an example. Long ago, I used to send
Christmas cards to all my friends and relatives. I
told myself I had to because some of my friends
and relatives would be offended if I did not send them
a card. Taking responsibility for my choices would
be like this: I choose to write cards to all my friends
and family because I want to stay connected and
show them my appreciation.
Try it for yourself. Pick something you don't like
(not the worst thing in your life - start small). Here's
one: I choose to pay my rent because I want to
live in a nice place and because I honor my agreements.
And more precisely, I pay the rent I do, because I
don't want to live with roommates and I do want to
live in a place that feels safe and comfortable.
Thanks for making the choice to read this. Check out
my Somatic Experiencing and Workshops pages for some
for stress relief offerings, and below for a holiday blessing
by John O'Donahue.
May the season be bright,
At The End of the Year
by John O'Donahue
The particular mind of the ocean
Filling the coastline's longing
With such brief harvest
Of elegant, vanishing waves
As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they became inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.
The days when the veil lifted
And the soul could see delight;
When a quiver caressed the heart
In the sheer exuberance of being here.
Surprises that came awake
In forgotten corners of old fields
Where expectation seemed to have quenched.
The slow, brooding times
When all was awkward
And the wave in the mind
Pierced every sore with salt.
The darkened days that stopped
The confidence of the dawn.
Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.
We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.
From, To Bless The Space Between Us, p. 159
Brad Beldner is a nationally certified somatic therapist and movement teacher. We are combining our skills and interests to do workshops incorporating Anusara inspired yoga and therapeutics with Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement. The two modalities together are powerful tools for healing chronic pain. See Classes/Workshops for upcoming events.
I interviewed Brad to give you some background on his work.
Brandy V: What is Feldenkrais exactly?
Brad Beldner: Developed by Dr. MosheFeldenkrais, it is a educationalmethodfor creating a higher degreeofintelligencein our body, mind andperception of ourenvironment. Mostdifficulties arise from distorted or absentawarenessof what we're doing or howwe areoperating. The FeldenkraisMethod raises the level of our body'sperception andintelligenceand removeshabitual movement patterns that createdistress and pain.
BV: Why do you think so manypeople have neck and shoulderpain?
BB: I find that in most cases theproblem'sgenesisand perpetuationis not located in the area whereyou are feeling the pain.In the caseof neck and shoulder pain, manytimes it has something to do withhow you are organizing your wholebody for movement that is puttingtoo much strain on your neck and shoulder. When you change thoserelationships, the pain disappears.
In the case of direct injuries likewhiplash or taking a direct blowto a specific area which createsthe injury, it is still usually the wayyour whole body reacts and compensates around that area that exacerbates, perpetuates and prolongsthe injury.
BV: So our neck and shoulderpain usually has something todo with other parts of the body?
BB: Yes. It's like when you havea house and the foundation shiftsand you get cracks in the 3rdfloor ceiling. You can keep repairingthe cracks, but until you look atthe foundation, the cracks will comeback.
BV: How do you work with neck and shoulder pain?
BB: I look at how a person has their whole body organized that is making it inevitable for pain to show up and sustain it self in a specific location. I use hands on techniques and awarenessexercisesto help the person feel how they are organizing and using their body. When that changes the injuries resolve.
BV:Do you have any suggestions that people can do to help ease their neck & shoulder pain?
BB: I think Feldenkrais movement classes are a great way to gently build self awareness and create flowing movement that leads to an elegant, sensual body that is pain free.
BV: How do you think Anusara yoga and Feldenkrais are complementary practices?
I don't know that much about Anusara other than what you have told me and the hand full of classes I have done. So I'll leave that part to you.
Feldenkrais method is the study of how the brain learns anything. It could be movement, dynamic stillness andalignment/posture, intention, thinking, physics (especially thermodynamics), psychology and human perception.Moshe called any configuration in the body "Acture" (Posture + Action) and was looking for the mostefficient organization of parts of the whole to make the mostintelligentwhole for anyendeavor. He used to say, "Know what you are doing so you can do what you want". Feldenkrais Method teaches youto notice how what you are doing had been out of yourawareness, and got in the way of what you wanted to achieve. He used its principles to teach math, physics, psychology and developmental movement to infants and adults.
BV: So it's basically about how we learn to move?
BB: It's how the brain learns anything, not just movement. It improves perception and brain function in addition to things like flexibility and balance.
BV: I'll answer my own question about how I see Anusara yoga & therapeutics being complementary with Feldenkrais. This is a little technical, so hang with me...
Anusara works with Universal Principles of Alignment to bring our body back to its most natural state of being. One of the primary flows of energy is called Spanda - a pulsation of expansion and contraction. It starts with an expansion to create space and set the intention, then there is stability through muscle engagement and then out of that another expansion to give a new sense of freedom and aliveness.
Everyone has areas of the body that are inappropriately strong/constricted and areas that need additional support. Anusara works to correct areas of misalignment, giving structural support or opening where needed, and reminding the body of its natural blueprint. The result is a more relaxed nervous system, more energy flow and ideally more access to the core of who you are.
Anusara yoga's focus is on postural alignment, mostly holding still, though in a dynamic way. Feldenkrais' emphasis is on learning and bringing awareness to unconscious patterns. Movement lessons help people understand how parts of the body move in relation to other parts appropriately. These lessons are quite different from Anusara yoga, but combining the two, I believe you will have greater access to awareness of your postural alignment in Anusara, allowing you to get more subtle with your movement and deepening your ability to apply the universal principles. It is also likely that you will experience a deepening of your postures because of Feldenkrais' effectiveness in increasing flexibility, balance and finding new sources of strength. All of those are aligned with what Anusara does through its practice of postures.
Banks on the River 4/7/08
When I was about 5, we were moving yet again (military life) and I was in temporary housing. My parents woke up to a bumping sound in the middle of the night and found me sleepwalking. I was atthe sliding glass door, trying to walk out. As Iwalked into it Isaid - whoops! Sorry Dad... Whoops! Sorry Dad...repeatedly trying to walkthrough this door (& apparently in my dream kept bumping into my Dad!).
This reminds me of times in life where we arebumping into a wall (or sliding glass door), in asleepwalking state. Sometimes we just keepgoing even though life might be trying to guideus a different way. An old teacher of mine likes to say, "God answers every prayer - sometimes theanswer is no!"
Sometimes when we want something so badly,we cannot see all of the roadblocks that are infront of us. We become determined to get thisthing, no matter what. It can become such anobsession that we cannot see any other possibilities. The Buddhists call this "grasping attachment."
When I first learned this concept 9 years ago, I put it to work for me at my job. I used it as atool for letting go. I would tell my boss - "hereis my project, let me know if you have anychanges. I am not attached to this particulardirection." It helped just to say the words -"I am not attached".
This works great for me in reducing perfectionistic tendencies, and helps me get out of stuck waysof thinking. Other areas are much more challenging.
The grasping attachment gets hidden and sometimes I can't see it until I've bumped up againstthe sliding glass door a few hundred times.
Addictions are a minefieldof grasping attachments-not just drugs/alcohol, but food, caffeine,people/relationships, etc. The first step in lettinggo of these attachments is noticing. Try applyingthe 7 attitudinal factors of mindfulness below. If itbecomes overwhelming, find a qualified counselorto help you navigate the process of detaching.
Remember the saying: "If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they're yours; if theydon't they never were. " Richard Bach
Attachment-good, grasping-not so much.
Until next time :)
From Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness for Beginners (audio)
3. Beginner's mind
7. Letting go
Try this - think about an area of suffering in your life and see if you can discover which of these attitudes you are embodying and which you are not. Focus on one or more of the attitudes that you can apply to your situation and see if it changes.
Smell the Coffee -9/19/7
My vacation in Mexico gave me a lot of time to step outside of my regular routine and think about the benefits mindfulness. I have gained so much personally from thispractice.I learned how to notice my repetitive thoughts and behaviors, and quickly found that many of them were not serving me or my relationships. I saw that I was on auto pilot - not fully living my life.
Sometimes this awareness can be very painful - I grew up with a strong desire to acheive, please and be perfect (a common attitude in this culture). My mindfulness practice shines the light on the parts of myself I'd rather keep in the dark.
But keeping them in the dark means they will stay there, poking up their gruesome heads, showing up when I'd least expect them, always at the most inopportune times. Looking at my thoughts and behaviors helps me decide what I want to support and where I'd like to do something different.
A key part of mindfulness practice is non-judging. In order to stick to my quest for self-understanding, I have to have compassion for myself. I have to forgive myself for not being perfect.
Yogis, meditators, and spiritual practitioners all over the world believe that spreading mindfulness willtake it from an individual practice to a global vision. We start to care more deeply about our impact on others and on our planet.
In some ways, mindfulness is the most basic tool for peace and sustainable life on earth. And it's something all of us can do - for free - every day to make a lasting impact for our future.
Are you ready for a totally new perspective on life?
Thanks for reading
Autumn Equinox is September 22 - it is the day in which the dark and light are equal. As it gets darker and colder, we spend more time indoors. Ourfocus also turns inward.
This is a great opportunity to setan intention for this new season. Here are some ideas:
*Jounal or write down your dreams
*Start a meditation practice
*Read a book you've been wanting to read
Autumn Equinox is also a time of gratitude for the harvest. What did you reap this year? Which intentions & prayers did you set and see manifest in your life? Send more gratitude out and see that abundance grow even more.
Honoring the seasons is a way of honoring the flow of life. When we flow with life, things feel easier, more natural. When we go against the natural flow, it feels like we are flowing up a river - tiring and challenging!
Mindfulness partII - 9/12/7
This is part 3 of my 4 part series on using yoga to manage mood. Let's dive into the breath. This week we will talk about ways of calming our energy. If you recall, I told you in the first installment that we can use breath to lift or calm our energy or mood.
3 months ago, I met Lorraine*. She stopped me after class one day and told me that she had been suffering from panic attacks for over 10 years. She was in a car accident and her younger sister was killed. Ever since the flashbacks and panic got progressively worse. We decided to do some private work together.
On our first day, I read Lorraine an excerpt from Amy Weintraub's book, Yoga for Depression in which she describes a client with almost identical symptoms as Lorraine. Amy used simple breathing techniques to help her client get rid of her panic forever. Lorraine was ready.
Here it is - the magical secret: breathe in for 4, breathe out for 8. Yes, that's it. The trick is that Lorraine was committed to practicing it several times a day. Whenever she could find a quiet moment - even in business meetings!
I saw Lorraine about 8 times, and over the course of our work, we continued to practice various breathing techniques, as well as begin to work on the core of her posttraumatic stress from the accident. Amazing benefits began to unfold. Lorraine told me weeks later that her panic had been so bad that her work was suffering. However, since she started the breathing practice, not only had her panic started to dissipate, but she was staying more present during stressful situations at work that would have madeher fall apart before. Then Lorraine told me they had a re-org at work, and (I swear I'm not making this up) she was given a promotion.
As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, if you work the program, the program works. True for yoga, true for meditation, and true for breath work.
See you next week,
Mindfulness-The Way In-9/5/07
Tools for mood, part 1 - 8/30/07
When I first came to yoga, I really had no idea what it was about- stretching? Strange poses? Now 9 years later I am still amazed by all of the benefits I have gained from yoga.
One unexpected benefit was helping to manage my mood. Coming to a yoga class will often times improve the mood just because of its physical impact on the systems of the body. It increases circulation, provides more oxygen-rich blood to the brain, tones the nervous system, and calms the adrenals - all important factors in mood.
Other yogic practices that are less often done in a class are even more powerful for mood management. Pranayama, or breath control, can heat or cool the body, reduce anxiety, increase energy, balance the right & left hemispheres of the brain and help improve our overall sense of well-being.
Meditation helps increase our self awareness, gives us tools to identify the source of uncomfortable emotions, to sit with them, and allow them to flow through us. Yoga teaches that meditation is the gateway to remembering the source of that divine energy that flows through us - that is us. Remembering our true nature and gaining new perspective on our lives can be very healing and stress relieving.
Over the next 3 weeks, I will tell you more about how to manage your mood with yoga, including real examples of people who have used these techniques and changed their lives. Please don't take my word on it - the proof reallyis in the practice.
Try this now: Sitting up tall, but comfortably, breathe in through the nose for a slow, even count of 4. Hold full lungs for a count of 4, exhale slowly for 4 & repeat 4, 8 or 16 times. If it feels too easy, increase from 4 to a higher number, but keep it even on all 3 parts.
Extra challenge: try to do this twice a day - say, right after you brush your teeth. See what happens! Try it when you're in a stressful situation - no one will know!
Have a great week
We can feel that yoga reduces stress, but here's some of the science behind it. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is the reaction we have to perceived threat - say you spot a poisonous snake on your trail. Your heart rate increases, you sweat, your digestion slows - your production of adrenaline and cortisol increase.
Then you look again and - oh! It's not a snake at all. That's when the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) takes over and helps reverse what the SNS did. Only in our high stress culture, our SNS is on overdrive and our PNS cannot compensate for all that activity.
Here's where yoga comes in. Slow postures, breathing, meditation & chanting help support the PNS to restore calm. Sun salutations and rigorous poses actually increase the SNS, but studies have shown that practicing rigorous poses followed by quieting ones actually leads to deeper relaxation than quiet poses alone.
Read more on Yoga Journal.com
Last week was an auspicious week for Anusara Yoga -its 10 year anniversary! This style, founded by John Friend,has a very passionate following. John describes Anusara as "a powerful hatha yoga system that unifies a Tantric philosophy of intrinsic Goodness with Universal Principles of Alignment(TM)."
About 3 years ago, I was having a lot of difficulty in my personal practice. I had a lot of injuries and life was so busy that yoga began to take a back burner. I started my Master's program at JFK and struggled to keep up my practice. Then I met my teacher Kenny Graham. Two things stood out in Kenny's classes - first his depth of knowledge and experience with alignment, which helped me and many of my students immediately. Second was his openness and kindness to everyone.
Those two qualities are what Anusara is all about. We look for the good in things. We align with our true divine nature. We celebrate the gift of life that we have been given and share in a community that uplifts us all.
Not that we don't acknowledge that life is hard sometimes, or pretend it's happy when it's not. We honor the fact that in our human experience, we taste a variety of flavors (rasas) - some bitter, some sweet.
We recognize that, thank goodness, all things pass, evolve, or shift. Through our practice and supporting each other we get through the hard times.
May we all feel supported in our communities, families May we learn to see our own inner strength and capacity to meet our own needs.
May we find connection, love and hope, as we open our hearts to an even more brilliant expression of who we are.
Licensed California Marriage & Family Therapist #49771
*Please see "About Brandy" for more info on trauma friendly yoga
**It generally works best if I am either your yoga teacher or your therapist/Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, not both.
Copyright Brandy Vanderheiden 2007. All rights reserved.