Everything Needs Exercise – Even Your Anterior Cingulate Cortex

Meditation is a form of mental discipline.  There are many forms and styles of meditation. One is to follow or focus on your breath.  Other people may meditate while focusing on an icon or object. Reciting a mantra can be useful for other people.  Guided meditation in which one imagines a scene or event can also be used. The regular practice of meditation has been found to be useful in reducing stress, enhancing physical and emotional health, and improving life satisfaction.

It has become common knowledge that meditation masters like Buddhist monks can achieve amazing things through the power of their minds. Now scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have identified the brain area involved. A report in Science Daily revealed that the anterior cingulate cortex that governs thinking and emotion and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex that controls worrying are both impacted by meditation. The activation of these two areas can reduce anxiety ratings by almost 40%. Just think of it – no medications, no side effects, no doctor bills, increased tranquility, and increased wellbeing.

Give it a try.  I’ve included a basic meditation exercise for you below.

Following the Breath Meditation.

  1. Sit comfortably.  You can sit on a floor, a cushion, or a chair.  Avoid positions that are so relaxed that you might fall asleep.
  2. Close your eyes.  This will help to reduce distraction. If closing your eyes causes anxiety for you, gaze gently at an object.
  3. Take a few deep breaths.  Then, breathe naturally. Some people find it helpful to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.
  4. Focus on your body sensations including the points of contact between you and the world.  Is there warmth, tingling, pressure, or vibration?
  5. Focus your attention on your breathing.
  6. Whenever your mind wanders away from your breath (and it will!), gently return to noticing your breathing. It is not necessary to judge these thoughts or reprimand yourself for your mind wandering. The ability to disconnect from our thoughts takes practice.

Namaste.

 

The complete Wake Forest study can be found at:

F. Zeidan, K.T. Martucci, R.A. Kraft, J.G. Coghill. Neural Correlates of Mindfulness Meditation-Related Anxiety Relief. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2013; DOI: 10.1093/scan/nst041.

Tapping Exercise – Nothing calms me down better than food

Start tapping on your karate chop point.  Say these words aloud: Nothing calms me down better than food. Even though nothing calms me down better than food, I don’t like what it does to my body. I am open to learning new ways of calming down.  I’m also open to learning more about the things that upset me so that I don’t even need to use food to calm myself.

Eyebrow…When I get upset, nothing calms me down better than food

Side of Eye…When I get upset, nothing calms me down better than food

Under the Eye…When I get upset, nothing calms me down better than food

Nose…When I get upset, nothing calms me down better than food

Chin…When I get upset, nothing calms me down better than food

Collarbone…When I get upset, nothing calms me down better than food

Under the Arm…When I get upset, nothing calms me down better than food

Top of Head…When I get upset, nothing calms me down better than food

Eyebrow…Food calms me down

Side of Eye…But it also is making me fat

Under the Eye…Food calms me down

Nose…And I often need to calm down

Chin…I get upset pretty often

Collarbone…And I use food to calm me down

Under the Arm…It is quick, easy, and painless

Top of Head…Well, maybe not painless

Eyebrow…Being overweight is definitely painful

Side of Eye…It is painful physically and emotionally

Under the Eye…I probably need to learn new ways to deal with my emotions

Nose…Food is quick, but the side effects are long

Chin…I can learn to manage my stress another way

Collarbone…I can learn to calm myself another way

Under the Arm…Even though I have used food to calm myself in the past

Top of Head…I am excited about the possibility of learning a new way

Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.  What do you notice in your body?  Did anything shift or change?  What do you notice in your emotions?  If new thoughts and ideas popped up, keep tapping.

Did anyone bring the marshmallows?

glowing campfireI tend to be an optimist, but sometimes I have a hard time seeing the silver lining right away.  Thursday morning started as any other day. I got up and showered, fed the dogs, made my breakfast, packed my lunch for work, then went into the laundry room to check the dogs’ water bowl.  I know many people walk through their mornings in a haze, but I literally walked into the haze during my morning. The room was filling with smoke.  In less that a minute the smoke detectors started blaring and smoke started filling the house.

Skipping to the end of the story – everyone is fine and the house is intact.  But a lot happened between the smoke and now.

Our boiler malfunctioned (another long story) and was burning a hole through the floor beneath it.  If this had happened after we had left for work we wold likely have lost everything.  I made it to work, although smelled like smoke) and Scott stayed home, assessed the damage, and went to work on the repairs.

At work I alternated between anxiety and gratitude that this happened while I was at home.  Fast forward to Friday – no hot water and the house smells like a campfire.  I decided I had a picture of marshmallows toasting to make s'moreschoice.  I could either focus on how inconvenient it was to not be able to take a hot shower and how smokey my house smelled or I could close my eyes and imagine cooking marshmallows for s’mores over the campfire.  I chose the latter.

kitchen sink with running waterSaturday – still no hot water.  My natural optimism was returning and by Saturday afternoon I could finally wash dishes again.  Wash dishes? I have never looked forward to washing dishes in my entire life.  Perhaps that is optimism taken too far.

Looking at everything that happened from this vantage point revealed a few lessons.

  1. I really am an optimist.  However, just because I am an optimist doesn’t mean I don’t feel unhappy or frustrated sometimes. Being an optimist just means that it is my default viewpoint.  Both tapping and conscious choice restored my balance.
  2. Looking for the blessings in your life is important. Unless you look for them you might miss out.  It would have been easy for me to focus on the inconveniences of the day but I know it would not have been a good thing for me or anyone else.
  3. I can tolerate more than I sometimes think I can.  I don’t usually like surprises or anything that disrupts my daily routine.  This event was a disruption but I actually bounced back rather quickly.

I hope I don’t have a fire again.  I hope you don’t either.  But if we do, think about marshmallows.

Confront Your Naked Identity

Large rope implying presence of a docked shipDoes that statement scare you a little bit? It did me. I noticed that statement in Jump Ship, a book by Josh Shipp.  I’ve mentioned this book in a few different posts.  What the author was speaking about was getting real with yourself about who you are. He considers this an essential task for becoming successful in life. The question one must ask is “who am I?” The answer needs to be honest.

The question isn’t very difficult, but the naked answer sure is. When you first consider the question you may have some ready-made answers like “I’m a mom”, “I’m short”, “I’m Caucasian”, or “I’m a doctor.” I would argue that these are just the roles you play. Other people come up with answers that include what other people have said about them like “strong-willed”, “efficient”,  “lazy”, or “beautiful.” That may not be who you really are either.

To help with confronting your naked identity Shipp offers these questions:

  1. What makes you unique?
  2. What do you love?
  3. What are you good at?
  4. What do you believe?

I’d like to offer a few more:

  1. What do you dislike?
  2. What are you most afraid of?
  3. What makes you cry?
  4. What makes you laugh?
  5. What are you afraid to let other people know about you?
  6. What brings you the most pleasure?

You might be wondering why this is so important. Consider this. Suppose that I want to make chocolate cupcakes. I have my ingredients all lined up to make them. Unfortunately the canister labeled sugar actually contains salt. What will happen to the cupcakes? You can be sure that I’ll be unhappy with the end product. In life the same thing can happen. If we do not see ourselves with accuracy – confronting that naked identity – it can be difficult, if not impossible, to get the end result we desire.  We must know what “ingredients” we bring to the table.

So, if you dare, confront your naked identity and get “cooking”!

EFT and the Fear of Heights

My first introduction to tapping (aka The Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT) used acrophobia as the target.  It was a great option given the high prevalence of height phobias.  According to Wikipedia, acrophobia is an extreme or irrational fear of heights.  Because we were in southern Florida, an amazingly flat area, it wasn’t possible to truck us of to some mountainous area and we only had five minutes to spend on the technique.  Instead, the leader had us all stand up on some very rickety folding chairs.  I’m not particularly acrophobic, but I am afraid of public embarrassment and falling down would surely trigger embarrassment.  Many people in the audience did report a dramatic change in their height phobia within only a few minutes of tapping.

In my psychology training I have learned about many techniques for addressing phobias including exposure, desensitization, flooding, and medications.  It is usually very difficult, if not impossible to talk someone out of their phobias.  Exposure, desensitization, and flooding really do work.  What most people don’t like about these techniques is that they take a fair amount of time and agony in order to see the results. One extremely positive feature of tapping is that the relief is often rapid and relatively painless in comparison to the more commonly used therapy techniques.

When using tapping to address acrophobia you can focus on the thoughts, feelings, or behaviors and make a huge impact.  Many people report heart pounding, breathing difficulty, and sweating in reaction to their phobia.  Tapping on the meridians while focused on any of these sensations will help to decrease the discomfort.  It can be effective to tap while in the terrifying situation, imagining the situation from the safety of your own living room, or looking at a picture that triggers thoughts of the situation.

You can also tap on the automatic thoughts that happen while experiencing or visualizing the situation.  These may be thoughts such as “I’m going to die”, “I’m going to fall”, or even “This fear is irrational.”  No thought is too trivial or too ridiculous to tap on.  Remember, phobias are irrational by definition.

Some people develop a fear of heights in response to a situation in which something bad happened to them or in response to something that happened to someone else that they learned about.  This could be a childhood prank in which someone acted like they were going to push you off of a bridge or a news report of someone falling off of a roof.  If these events remain stored in your energy system for any length of time a phobia can develop.

One of my favorite tapping techniques is continuous tapping while having a conversation with yourself, or someone else, about the things that have happened in the past.  You can include a description of the event, the sounds, the smells, and the thoughts in your head in the conversation while you are tapping.

Does the thought of skiing on a tall mountain make you shudder?  Does looking over the side of a tall staircase take your breath away?  There is no need to suffer.  Claim your emotional freedom and learn to tap.  Click HERE for a video to get you started.

Yes, but…

Yes, but…Those words can derail us in so many ways.  This applies whether the words are said to us or whether they are part of the little voice in our own head. These words can hold us back from going for our goals.  Tapping can make a difference and neutralize the yes, buts….from the past, present, and future.

What Are Limiting Beliefs?

Limiting beliefs are those thoughts, sometimes conscious, sometimes not, that keep us from doing the things we need to do to reach our goals.  For example, when I was growing up I wanted to be an astronaut.  That was at the beginning of the manned space program and whenever I would mention that I wanted to be an astronaut I would hear someone say – girls can’t be astronauts.  That is a limiting belief.  It kept me from trying to become an astronaut.

Not all limiting beliefs come directly from an outside source.  There was a time when I also wanted to become a doctor.  I knew that I had to take physics and calculus in order to go to medical school.  I didn’t believe that I could do well in those subjects in spite of the fact I was a straight A student.  There was no logical reason to assume I couldn’t pass those classes but my belief that I couldn’t kept me from actually trying.

History is full of limiting beliefs.  The world is flat. That belief kept people close to home so that they didn’t fall off the edge. A limiting belief is anything that keeps you stuck right where you are.

The good news — they are just beliefs, not facts.  We can challenge our limiting beliefs.  Tapping is a great way to do that.  Believing that I can’t pass physics is a belief. Deciding that I don’t want to put in the work that physics would require is a choice.  Being in a position of choice is “where it’s at” if you ask me.

Contentment Is A Verb

Contentment is a hot topic in many venues and disciplines. References to contentment can be found in virtually every religion, social group, culture, and philosophy. The word contentment can even be found in economics and psychology. Most of the references I have found seem to refer to contentment as a destination or objective.  While that may be an accurate usage of the word I believe that it lacks the depth and dynamic that is possible when used another way.  It would be more accurate, in my view, if contentment was a verb.  Verbs indicate action.  Contentment is really a process, not a destination.  In that way it defies our typical grammar structure.

Contentment doesn’t mean not wanting, not achieving, or not trying.  You can have contentment while trying to reach goals.  You probably must have contentment to really accomplish anything. My definition of contentment would read like this: the struggle of knowing that all that there ever could be is not enough and all that exists right now is abundant.

Here are some other definitions.

  • from WordNet 1.6 1997 Princeton University: happiness with one’s situation in life
  • from Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary 1996: contained within limit; hence having the desires limited by that which one has, not disposed to repine or grumble; satisfied

At the website www.pausetoponder.org they suggest that we are trained to be dissatisfied. Our economic structure thrives on discontent. Contentment in the Western mind is having enough so that you are happy, can sit back, relax, and have no care in the world.  This can never be achieved.  According to Paster Gerry (Pastor Gerry is Gerald Whetstone, Ordained Elder and teacher in the Church of the Nazarene), in A Pause to Ponder God’s Word there are several actions one can take to find contentment.  Note that I said ACTIONS.

  1. Always rejoice in the Lord
  2. Don’t be anxious, pray
  3. Think on Holy Godly things
  4. Practice Holy living
  5. Always remember that with Christ there is nothing that we cannot handle
  6. Be a vital active member of a community of believers

The Jewish concept of Shabbat is also related to contentment.  Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg defined Shabbat as resting in the eternity of this day when we do not try to change or control our reality.  We are not pushing anything away or longing for anything to be different. Shabbat is completion, acceptance, realization, and fulfillment – all of the qualities that we cultivate when we rest our attention in the present moment.

In my dynamic model you “contentment” (the verb) in each time of prayer, meditation, or practice of Tai Chi.  The more one practices the longer you are able to experience the expanding state of contentment.