psychology

Unsupportive Resources

If you recognize that your main resources are unhealthy or harmful, like social media, video games, alcohol or other substances, here are a few things to consider.

First, know that it's totally normal to self-regulate! You aren't bad because you utilize a way of regulating that also isn't good for you. It's working in some way or you wouldn't do it. 

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The good news is there's something to be learned from the activity or substance. There's an effect of self regulation that is important and useful.

What are the qualities of that?
How do you feel when engaging with that "resource"?
Do you feel relaxed?
Present?
Engaged?

Start to notice, even look for, times and activities where you feel that quality outside of that activity/substance. You can even practice feeling that quality without the "thing."

Take the effect of the self regulation attempt and practice it separate from the unhealthy or harmful activity or substance. 

It's quite simplistic to talk about replacing an unhealthy resource just by noticing what it gives you or inserting a more helpful resource. However, when we do this with complete awareness of the body and what's happening in the physiology, the effects can be profound. 

Of course, substitutions probably won't feel exactly the same and making any kind of habit change takes work. But bringing in the body aspect and tracking the felt-sense experience will help make that shift with more honestly, awareness and nervous system support.

If you haven't already, check the post on ideas on identifying more positive resources.

 

*If you have an addiction or need clinical support, please seek out a therapist or treatment program for support and loving care.

 

Self-Regulating :: Resources

We all have ways that we self-regulate when we're stressed. Some might be less than ideal -- Facebook scrolling, online shopping or mindless eating -- and we might not even be aware of some of the ways we self-soothe, for example if you unconsciously stroke your thumb on your leg.

These are all attempts at finding a resource -- something we use to help stabilize our nervous system in times of distress.

Because resourcing is something we do naturally and can probably do with more consciousness (thus increasing its effectiveness) it can be helpful to identify what we currently use to soothe and give ourselves more options, if necessary.

flower arrangement

Types of Resources

Internal

  • Places in the body that are relaxed, pleasant, reliable, connected, non-reactive, can move and respond
  • Moving the body in ways that feel relaxing, discharging, enlivening, pain-free
  • Breath that is free and unrestricted
  • Prayer, affirmations, connection to the divine, spirit or universe
  • Acts of self care
  • Presence, consciousness, awareness, meditation

External 

  • Places, people or activities, real or imagined, that are comforting and stabilizing
    • nature, rooms or places in your home, trusted people, pets, music, exercise or activities, travel, religious or spiritual places
  • A therapist or support group
  • Safe and appropriate touch
fresh flowers

 

Again, we all self-regulate throughout the day. If I'm feeling stressed, I might shake off my shoulders and/or take a walk. On another day I might have a chai and check email.

It's the effect I'm looking for -- to diffuse my stress or anxiety, to take a break from the thing that is stressful, hopefully broadening my perspective around it.

The first option - a shake of the shoulders and a walk - is probably the more healthful option. So I can really be aware of how that shake and walk make me feel:

What are the sensations in my body?
Where are they?
What effects do they have?

Simply noticing these things can help me the next time I need to pick which self regulation to go with.  It can also help imprint the "non-stressed" state as I go back to what I was doing.

 

Curious about what your go-to resources are? Make a list!!

Here's part of mine:

Internal -- noticing or moving my hands, a head bobble, moving my jaw/face, recalling a line from a poem or a song, making little sounds, joint movements like shoulder rolls.

External -- nature and being outside, journalling, podcasts and music, walk/stretch/yoga, essential oils and good smells, fresh flowers, my faminals, friends and Greg, my therapist.

Since identifying this list a few months ago, I've spent less time online and on my phone, I've been reading more and seeing friends more regularly. Knowing that I have simple accessible resources in every moment helps ease my anxiety.

As you identify your resources, notice what happens in your body as you think about them and write them down. Sometimes just thinking about a resource is supportive.

What if you realize that your main resources are unhealthy? We all have mildly unhealthy outlets, but if your main support is also harming you in some way, here are some ideas.

 

Social Contagion and a Values-Aligned Life

Social contagion is the well-researched idea that we "catch" emotions and behaviors from other people. Susan David, the author of Emotional Agility, gives a couple of examples:

You step into an elevator and the person in the elevator is on their phone. You are likely to get out your phone as well.

If you are on an airplane and your seatmate buys candy, even if you do not know that person, the research shows that you are 70% more likely to buy candy.

Even more shocking, if people we know by acquaintance, or even by 2-3 degrees of separation, get divorced or put on weight, it significantly increases our chances of getting divorced or putting on weight.

We unconsciously start wanting things other people want or normalizing behaviors we previously would not have engaged in.

That's some powerful suggestive influence.

So what can we do to stay aligned with our own deeply held values and not be unconsciously swayed by the actions of other people?

David's advice is something she calls Values Affirmation - spending even 10 minutes every day thinking about your values, what type of person you want to be in relationship, as a parent, at work and so on.

Just 10 minutes a day of focusing on your core values will help protect you from social contagion. 

Obviously this requires clarity around what your values are. David urges us first to come from a place of compassion and care for ourselves and our emotional bodies. She also has a free test on her website that can help you determine how well you are living a values-aligned life and ways to be more emotionally agile. 

If you're interested in more on this topic, I recommend the author's interview with Rich Roll. She covers a lot of ground:

  • practical examples of what it means to live a values-aligned life
  • the difference between values and goals
  • why will power doesn't work
  • the danger of bottling or brooding on your emotions
  • the myth of "negative" or "bad" emotions

I enjoyed this podcast so much, I've listened to it twice! Let me know what you take from it.

 

The practice of perplexity

"Part of the spiritual tradition is to unsettle us."

That's a line from a recent On Being podcast with secular Buddhist teacher and writer, Stephen Batchelor.

The discussion is about what Batchelor calls the immediacy of the mystery.  Many traditions have practices of perplexity, wonderment, astonishment, curiosity and even doubt at their core, connecting us to possibility and surprise rather than certainty and answers.

Yesterday I taught my last class at the studio as It's All Yoga. This week the name will change to Ritual. This is a change I knew was possible when I sold the studio last year, and still, there was sadness as I watched the new coats of paint being put on the building as I left class. Never a moment of regret...but, surprise...some sadness.

rose quartz

Batchelor spent months in deep meditation with the question, "What is this?" His experience of stillness and quiet with that question eventually led to a place where the words fell away and the question became a physical sensation, infusing the consciousness with a deep sense of curiosity.

What is this? is not a question in search of an answer. It is intended to help us penetrate the mystery more deeply so that it becomes more mysterious. Where every situation and experience becomes truly surprising. A place outside of our habitual views and conditioned responses.

A non-reactive stillness.

Softening the grip around what happens next.
Putting down the article on The 5 Steps to....  
Actively engaging in the art of not taking things for granted.

mark nepo

There is no certainty, there is just the Immediacy of the Mystery.
The possibility of continual surprise and wonder.
A way of life guided by engagement and openness.

The practice is here for us. All the time.

 

Under the sadness I find relief. Curiosity. Aliveness.

I'm excited to see how Ritual unfolds and what beautiful new offerings it brings to this community. And I'm delightfully unsettled and unanswered with how It's All Yoga will evolve in its next iteration.

So brilliantly described in the Long Way Home by Mark Nepo -- this is our practice.

long way home
 

My sleep test

Tired of being tired

For years I have dealt with insomnia. Some of it seemed "normal" -- anxiety over buying my first house, restlessness before an early flight, worried about a meeting the next day.

Those temporary and situational bouts of sleeplessness were manageable and passed.

But over the years, the occasional night of sleeplessness worsened to long stretches of insomnia. Months on end of sleeping for what seemed like only a few hours a night, feeling exhausted and physically stressed.

I've tried everything under the sun. Tinctures, herbs, OTC sleeping aids, pharmaceutical drugs, natural remedies, eating certain things, not eating other things, all kinds of body practices...and some of it worked for a while, but not consistently.

I felt totally helpless and hopeless upon going to bed -- will this be a good night's sleep or not? The question itself creates an anxiety loop that makes sleep less and less likely.

Going to the science

I started hearing about other ways to work with insomnia -- ways that could be as effective as prescription drugs. By addressing the mental aspect, one could repattern the brain to avoid those potholes of sleeplessness. I began working with some of these techniques, as well as being more accountable for my "sleep hygiene." And miraculously, I started sleeping.

This did not happen overnight (no pun intended) -- it took patience, discipline and effort. 

But OH was it worth it. There is NOTHING like getting a good night's sleep, especially consistently!

Putting my new techniques to the test

sleep products

Travel is another time when sleep can be disrupted. This past weekend I had a training in Berkeley. I was about to put my newfound sleep to the test.

I packed my normal nighttime routine essentials... AND an ambien just in case.

I had three nights to experiment with sleeping well away from home.

 

IT WORKED

I slept!! If you've suffered from insomnia, you know that this is a big deal!

Especially because I was at a training and I wanted to be fresh and alert for learning.

Part of the success is that I've made new patterns around sleep and my brain is more accustomed to nighttime + bed = sleep. The other success was that the techniques were powerful enough to work outside of the comforts of home. 

All the effort and inconvenience of these past months paid off. 

 

Are you tired of insomnia?

If you've suffered from sleeplessness and want some support, tools and resources, join me this coming Sunday for: 

Tired of Insomnia?
Sunday, March 11, 1-3:30 pm

We will cover:

  • sleep preparation
  • physical practices that can calm the nervous system
  • mental/cognitive tools to get and stay asleep
  • natural aids that help support a sleepy state
  • and more


If you plan to sign up, please do so early -- I have homework for you this week that will be part of the workshop.  


Register HERE. I'll get back to you within 24 hours with your homework and additional information.

Part of changing the patterns of insomnia is not making a big deal about going to bed. This is hard to do when it's been a stressful thing for a long time.

Getting restful, restoring sleep changes EVERYTHING. Your body, your nervous system, your work, your relationships will all thank you!

Let me know if you have questions. And if you have friends who could benefit from this workshop, please pass this along.

Michelle


yoga props

200 Hr Yoga Teacher Training


If you are looking for a space to question and move and grow, this is a beautiful way to do it. 

Read about this opportunity. 
Or contact me to chat. That's what I'm here for.

 

the magic pill

If you've been in class lately, or seen me in the grocery store for that matter, you know that I can't stop talking about the book How Emotions Are Made by neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett.

This book is causing a bit of a ruckus in the psychology world, even though many of the ideas Dr. Barrett is talking about have been proven (or disproven as it were) for around 100 years.

The main premise, as I understand it is:

Our brains are constantly making predictions based on our concepts and past experience to interpret the pleasant and unpleasant sensations in our bodies. The feedback from the body (in the form of sensation) about how the physical systems are working is called interoception -- being aware of the internal world.

Those concepts and guesses are how we make sense of sensation so we know what caused the sensation and what to do about it. More intense sensations are used to make emotions; less intense sensations are used to make thoughts and beliefs.

Emotions don't happen to you. Emotions aren't reactions to the world. 

Emotions are your brain's effort to make sense of your body in the world. 

An example: a dull ache in your stomach could mean... you're hungry, you're anxious, you're tired, you're disgusted by someone, you're nervous to give a talk, you have a longing, you're getting the flu... the possibilities of what a dull ache means go on and on and on.

All of the previous times you've had an ache in your stomach help your brain solve this current ache so it can get your body systems back into balance.

Mind-Body

Every waking moment of your life is simultaneously physical and mental. Every experience has both.

The connection between mind and body is biological, not just metaphysical. The brain is trying to keep all the systems in the body in balance, like a financial office of a company will shift resources around to make sure all departments have what they need. Dr. Barrett calls this your Body Budget.

If your Body Budget is out of balance in any way, you'll feel distress, and your brain needs to make sense of why, what it means and what to do about it.

It's more helpful if your brain is able to distinguish -- through practice, past experiences and available concepts -- the difference between the feeling of disappointment and the feeling of anxiety. Instead of just feeling "bad" which would require the brain to make many more guesses about a useful solution, if the brain can be very specific about its interpretation of a body sensation, it will have more precise concepts for feelings and it will be more successful in finding a remedy quickly.

Like that dull ache -- it wouldn't be very helpful to eat a sandwich to satisfy hunger if the sensation really meant you were nervous about a presentation. 

In the most simple terms, emotions are the brain's interpretation of basic body sensations.

How Emotions Are Made

 

Emotional Health

Your brain uses a lot of energy to manage your body's budget and if your budget becomes unbalanced, it's exponentially harder for your brain to manage your emotional states.

The great news is that Dr. Barrett gives us the magic pill to feel more balanced and emotionally stable. Here are her exact instructions:

The neuroscience is very clear - if you want to control your emotions better, if you want to be more of an architect of your own experience, then the first thing you must do is get enough sleep. You must get enough exercise, and you must eat properly in a nutritious way.  

Keep your body budget in balance.

Isn't this great news!? Our physical health, mental and emotional well-being are dependent on the simplest things that we have access to every day.

The secret is always that there is no magic pill -- for anything worthwhile. 

If you're reading this, you are probably already doing a great job at taking care of yourself.

It still may be worthwhile to ask --

  • Is there any area where I'm still believing in a magic pill?
  • Do I get a full 8 hours of sleep every night? If not, why?
  • Can I do better at choosing nourishing food and making sure to eat greens every day? 
  • Can I get another 10 minutes of increased heart rate activity in a few times a week? Even if it's just doing jumping jacks and push ups in the living room?

We can drop the search for the magical fix (whew), and invest a little more time and consistent effort into ourselves, and we'll be able to do everything with more energy, attention and joy.

(Stay tuned for my nighttime concoction for good sleep!)

Have you read the book? Any thoughts about this article? Would love to hear.