It can be said that most, if not all, of our experience, begins from our perception and the consistent thoughts that we think. These consistent thoughts, for better or for worse, affect all areas of our lives. Most of us can remember a time when we were feeling calm and at peace and something triggered a thought (whether we realized it or not) that immediately changed our mood. Before we knew what hit us, we felt sad, low, and hopeless. Often our environment has not changed, nothing dramatic or traumatic has happened, yet something has shifted and we no longer feel balanced and whole. It began with a thought. We identified with that thought and then became emotionally connected to that thought.
Don’t Believe Everything You Think
It has taken me over a decade of personal and spiritual development to realize that the phrase “change your thinking, change your life” doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be fully in control of your mind. Most of us aren’t able to monitor or control every thought in our heads and if you’ve ever tried, you know it’s quite exhausting of a task. So, I say, cut your brain some slack, it’s just doing its job.
Brains think and, at least in my experience, no matter how much meditation you do, it will still be doing its’ job and pretty darn well. Thoughts will always come and go, but the important piece to remember is you don’t have to believe everything you think. This may seem shocking to some and quite elementary to others, but when I realized this it made a huge difference in how I view my inner landscape. Once I realized that there are many factors that contribute to my thoughts and they are not necessarily what I believe, feel, or want to take action on, I felt truly liberated. So I shifted my personal growth work to focus on allowing my thoughts to be just what they are – thoughts. Soon my work became questioning my thoughts and discontinuing to identify or believe in everything I think.
Remember the Mind-Body Connection
There are a few things we can do when we are stuck in a mental rut. Most of us realize that our thoughts affect our actions, but did you know that our actions affect our thoughts? It is important to remember this mind-body connection, especially when it seems difficult to change our thought patterns. For example, it is less likely to think negative thoughts while you are using your body in a positive way: Try dancing around to some uplifting music and smiling in front of the mirror. Put yourself in an uplifting environment such as taking a walk in a park, practicing yoga, or working in your garden. Often you will find your thinking will shift with your body.
Be Your Own Best Friend
Challenging our thoughts and shifting our mindset is a warrior’s journey, yet not everyone is up for the task. For my fellow warrior’s out there, you will need to learn to be your own best friend. During times of change and growth, you may feel alone, and changing our thoughts may seem impossible. Ask yourself “what do I need right now to feel better?” When negative thoughts arise, talk to yourself as your best friend would talk to you. Often we talk to ourselves in ways that do not promote positivity and thus, inhibit growth. For example, if you have the thought “I will never get well,” you could think of what your best friend would say to you instead and respond by saying, “You are doing the best you can right now, each day you are making better choices for your life and your body. In time, you will see a difference.” There is no sense in lying to ourselves, so be honest, but be kind – just like a best friend would.
It is important to practice mindfulness and bring more awareness to what we are thinking on a regular basis. This doesn’t mean you have to track every thought, but become aware of your most consistent or recurring thought patterns. Our subconscious minds will act on any thought as a command, whether the message is positive or negative. A practice I like to use to generate mindfulness is to sit in silent meditation for at least 5 minutes per day and imagine I am sitting by a small stream of water. There is a tree nearby that has leaves falling into the stream. Each thought I have is a leaf floating on the water. I notice the thought or leaf and I let it pass me by.
Find & Replace
Another practice I have used over the years is to carry a small notebook with me everywhere I go for a week and write down every thought that I have. This may seem daunting, but it is well worth the effort. It will be impossible to write down all of your thoughts, but write down as many as you can. As you write them down, question them: Do I truly believe this statement? Is it true? Only choose to own the statements that are absolutely true for you.
As you look at your list, cross out any negative or hurtful thoughts, and replace them with a positive version of that thought. For example a fearful thought about your work or job, such as “I don’t know what I’m doing, everyone is going to laugh at me,” could be replaced with something like “Each day I am learning and growing and improving. It is natural to feel uncertain at times, but I am doing my best.” Consistently replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts and affirmations will eventually become second nature and have an enormous effect on our whole being – mentally, spiritually, and physically.
The Domino Effect
When we make the effort to replace our negative thoughts often we begin experiencing positive emotions and have a brighter outlook for our lives. Positive emotions broaden your sense of possibility and open your mind up to thoughts of a positive future. These thoughts affect not only your mind but increase your body’s ability to heal itself because it no longer has to fight the effects of stress from negative thinking. Positive thoughts become the domino effect of health and are often the beginning of our journey for a holistic, healthy life.
If you follow our blog, you are most likely someone who strives to grow and improve in many ways. As a wife, mother of four, homemaker, business owner, and natural health & living enthusiast, I’ve made my own personal development a high priority. Throughout my journey, I’ve felt all the ups and downs that life has to offer and I’ve learned that self-improvement is a journey that never ends, yet the successes, no matter how small, are worth it.
It’s an Inside Job
Based on my experience, personal growth and development start from the inside. Everything that goes on within ourselves is what really matters and taking responsibility for our physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health is the best approach we can use for sustainable balance. Life is all about what we are learning and how we are growing. I recommend a holistic approach to personal growth that involves taking a look at the whole human being and the surrounding environment.
A Holistic Perspective
If our goal is our own wholeness, then we must look at all areas of our lives in order to develop and grow holistically. This is why we offer ideas in different areas of life. Little by little all of these threads merge together into a healthy and balanced life.
Holistic healing can take time and it requires commitment, yet small, consistent steps will prove big results. To begin a holistic journey of personal growth, spend time going within by walking in nature, journaling or meditating (and no, you don’t have to sit in lotus position) to look at all areas of your life. Notice any areas that feel stuck or bring up emotion or tension. If necessary, engage a trusted coach, therapist, or mentor to guide you toward areas that need improvement. You may work to improve only one area of your life at a time, to prevent overwhelm, but keep a holistic perspective and set your end state goal to look at the big picture and heal all areas over time.
It’s Up to You, but You Are Not Alone
You are responsible for your journey and only you can know what you need to grow, learn, and evolve. Trusted friends and coaches can provide different perspectives, but it is up to us to take time to process the information we receive and apply it to our situation appropriately. Remember that you have resources at your fingertips at all times and there is nothing wrong with asking for help. Vulnerability is strength, but in the end personal growth is up to you.
As you probably know, most health concerns or imbalances are connected, at some level, to the amount of stress in our lives. Stress can come in many forms and from all types of experiences, including positive ones, such as the birth of a child, a wedding, or a new job. That being said, an excess of stress is not good for our bodies, our immune systems, or our lives.
As someone who has experienced anxiety and panic most of her life, stress is closely related to anxiety, panic, and depression. The equation usually goes like this: Too much stress or overwhelm = Anxiety. In addition, if I don’t keep my anxiety in balance I can progress to panic and possibly depression. Due to this, it is obvious why I am very motivated to try everything I can to keep my stress levels to a minimum.
Health Coach Toolbox
As a Health Coach, I spend a lot of time and energy thinking about what helps me manage my own stress and anxiety and what I can suggest to others. Over time I have created my “toolbox,” as I refer to it, of tricks, techniques, and tools that assist in relaxation and relieving stress (I keep this list on a notepad on my phone). It is helpful to have a toolbox of various tools as what works for you one day may not work the next. I do not utilize all of these tools on a daily basis or each time I am feeling stressed, but I always keep them in mind and use what feels right at the moment.
- Earthing & Grounding in Nature: See our recent post about the health benefits of earthing. I try to get my bare feet in the dirt or grass as often as possible. This involves also getting my full body in sunlight several times a day and taking walks in nature or outside often.
- Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT): Check out this demonstration about using EFT for anxiety. I followed along with this video for weeks until I felt comfortable doing the technique on my own.
- “Low and slow” deep breathing: Learn more about this type of breathing here and see a demonstration. I find the simple act of breathing in and out of my belly in a deep and slow way the most helpful when I’m stressed and anxious.
- Alternate nostril breathing: Watch a demonstration of this technique here. This breathing technique is really grounding and will help center you. I often follow up this technique with another tool from the toolbox once I am grounded and feeling more calm.
- Self-Massage: Learn how to give yourself a full body massage in only 30 seconds here. I recommend all types of self-massage including ear massage, abdominal massage, and foot massage. This will be even more impactful after a hot bath with lavender oil.
- A hot bath with essential oils: My favorite essential oils to use in the bath are lavender, ylang-ylang and orange. Use lavender to calm you, ylang-ylang for emotional healing and orange to uplift or energize you. If you don’t have time for a bath or don’t have a bathtub, then do a hot foot bath instead.
- Rescue remedy/Bach flower essences: I put 4 drops of Rescue Remedy under my tongue when I am feeling anxious as often as needed. You can learn about Bach Flower Essences and order them here.
- Exercise (that my body WANTS to do): Check out this recent post for my 5 favorite yoga postures to shift anxiety. Some type of movement is extremely helpful when feeling anxious or stressed. My personal favorites are vigorous walks in nature, yoga, or kickboxing. The important part is to do exercise that your body is craving and wants to do.
A Side Note
It is important to remember that many of these techniques are meant to be used for prevention and may not necessarily stop a panic attack or intense anxiety in its’ tracks. I find that many of these tools alone or in combination with each other do ease panic and anxiety at the moment; however, I view these tools as opportunities to prevent my anxious sensations from becoming so intense that they trigger a panic attack. They aren’t magic or a quick fix, but they can be enormously helpful, especially if used consistently.
For Further Help
If you find that you are using these techniques regularly and you are unable to see any relief, I encourage you to take a look at your lifestyle and habits and see if there are ways that you can slow down a bit and nurture yourself. Can you make more space in your life for alone time to journal, read, meditate, pray, cook, garden, or whatever fills you with calm and peace? It is necessary for all of us to make time for creativity, fun, and downtime.
In addition, if you need further support please seek out a professional and licensed therapist that specializes in anxiety, panic, and depression.
Good luck on your journey and be gentle with yourself!
As a health coach and yoga teacher, I often work with people who are stepping out of their comfort zone and trying a new form of exercise, like yoga, for the first time. As you probably would guess, I love yoga and I highly recommend it to my friends and clients. It is important to move our bodies in a way that energizes and empowers us. For many people, yoga is the perfect complement to their other workout routines and helps balance their stressful and busy lives. If you are feeling overwhelmed by all the yoga studios and options out there and aren’t sure where to start, here are some tips for you.
Set Your Intention
What do you want to get out of a yoga class? Like anything we do in life, what we put into it is what we get out of it. What are your goals? Many people are looking for relaxation, stress release, strength training, or weight loss when they start a yoga practice. Set your intention first. Once you know what you are looking for it will be easier to determine the type of yoga that will help you on your journey.
Determine Your Needs
You will find that there are many different forms and styles of yoga practice. Here are some sample questions to ask yourself:
- Are you an avid runner who is looking to reduce the chance of injury through regular, deep stretching?
- Will yoga be your primary form of exercise? What another exercise will you do?
- Are you looking for a meditative, stress-relieving experience that helps you calm down at the end of the day?
- Are you looking to lose weight and do you want a high-intensity class to burn calories?
No matter who you are there is a type of yoga that can help you meet your goals, but it helps to do some research about your options. I’ve talked to people who decided that yoga was not for them after just a few classes, but, in reality, it may have been the specific teacher, studio, or style of yoga that wasn’t a good fit.
Check Out Your Options
There are a lot of different styles of yoga for you to choose from. I suggest you try a variety of different studios and styles before you decide which type is right for you. In an attempt to be brief in this post, I’m not outlining all of the various styles of yoga and their benefits. You can find every type of experience- from classes that are in really hot rooms with an intense cardio-style flow series to a class at room temperature where you lay on your back the entire time surrounded by props and blankets holding each posture for several minutes for deep stretching. Here are a few tips while researching your options:
- Ask your friends and family for recommendations of their favorite studios and join them during one of their next classes.
- Do a web search for yoga studios and classes in your area. On the studio or gym website read the instructor backgrounds and bios and class descriptions. Most studio websites will give you an outline of the type of practice you can expect and may even have sample videos of classes in their studio.
- Look for the “introductory” or “beginner” classes. Some studios even have beginner workshops that will teach you about that specific type or tradition of yoga in a relaxed environment.
- Try a lot of different styles. If you do not like that particular class, the studio or instructor does not give up. Keep going to different classes and studios until you find one that works for you.
Mix It Up
If you are like me, you may find that you are drawn to several styles and are drawn to practicing different ones at different times depending on how you feel. Some people find one style, studio, or teacher, and they are set. Others, like me, need a variety of studios, instructors, and styles to meet the flow of life. Be open to what you find out about yourself and listen to what your body needs. No matter what, remember that it’s just yoga. Are you moving your body in a way that you enjoy? If the answer is yes, then you are winning! Have some fun!
Most of us who experience anxiety and panic on a regular basis want to get rid of it, cure ourselves of it, or, at least, deny it and pretend it is not there. We imagine a life where we never feel anxious and it seems perfect and problem-free. If only we could find the perfect drug or supplement, the best technique or therapist, then we would be “fixed.” Then we would be content. I get that feeling and spent a good part of the past 15 years practically killing myself to accomplish this goal.
What we need to realize is by thinking this way, we often set ourselves up for failure. I would like to offer a different approach, a different way of thinking: What if we accept and embrace our anxiety and panic and decide to thrive anxiously?
We could decide to thrive with our anxiety and panic, not despite it.
Stick with me here. I realize this seems ridiculous- who would choose to partner with their anxiety? Yet I see this as one of the greatest acts of self-care and self-love that one can make. Recently, while meditating, I was struck with the idea that anxiety and panic, at some level, maybe a part of my experience for the rest of my life and I may have been looking at this “disorder” all these years from the wrong perspective. I was overwhelmed with the idea that my panic attacks and general anxiety have been my teacher and, at times, my guide. How many times have I felt anxiety or panic come on for no reason and then later realized that the situation I was in was not healthy for me?
Here is what I know from my experience: our bodies are continually sending us signals as to what we need at the moment if only we can allow ourselves to listen. If we tune in to our bodies, we will often find that they are more in tune with our surroundings, our situations, and our needs than our minds are. If you are like me, you have had to learn this the difficult way, through years of unnecessary struggle.
If you are having panic attacks every time you spend time with a certain person, listen to it. Maybe that relationship is not in your (or their) best interest. If you feel intense anxiety going to work each day, maybe your body is giving you permission to find new work. Maybe not, but take the time to listen. Journal. Meditate. Sit in silence with your thoughts and feelings. Self-inquiry can be difficult but can prevent a lot of heartache down the road.
I invite you to give this perspective a try. It may not be for you, but what do you have to lose? So, what is your anxiety teaching you today?
Photo credit: Carsten Howitz, Horwitz Photography
For many of us, it is helpful to know how to move through and shift the intense energy of anxiety and panic when it occurs. Regardless of the reason for your anxiety or panic attacks, I find that they are often a symptom of intense stress and fearful thinking about the future. As someone who experiences generalized anxiety most of the time, which can, at times, lead to intense panic, I need tools and tricks to try at the moment. After 12 years of practicing and studying yoga, I have a few favorite postures I like to use for anxiety.
It is important to remember that there is no “one size fits all” approach to anything, especially when we are dealing with anxiety and panic. These sensations, thoughts, and feelings can come on for no logical reason and it can be very frustrating. I get it. It helps me to see all of the sensations, thoughts, and feelings as energy moving around my body and trying to get out, but it is stuck. Body movement, through exercise, stretching or yoga can help release, or at least lessen, the intensity of the energy so you can get in touch with what is really going on and make a game plan to bring yourself back into balance.
Preparation for the Postures
I recommend doing quite a bit of stretching or the use of a foam roller prior to going into these postures. This will help you get the full benefits of the postures and your hips will be a bit more open. If you are feeling a lot of anxiety or panic it is very helpful to do some type of higher intensity exercise, even just brisk walking for at least a half a mile can work, prior to these postures.
My regimen for really tough days involves a 2-mile power walk (at least a 17-minute mile), followed by 15 minutes of core and lower body exercises, then 15 minutes of stretching and using the foam roller on my low back, IT band, hips and thighs. I find when I do all of this, my body and mind melt into these postures. I also find that if I go straight into the postures without doing some form of more rigorous exercise first, the energy is still too intense and I have a hard time shifting the cycle of negative thinking.
Play with the postures and see how your body reacts to them. Hold the postures for as long as is comfortable while practicing deep, low-belly breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Deep breathing low in your belly is as important, if not more important, than the postures themselves. The below is not necessarily a sequence, you can practice them in this order, or any order that you choose. You can also pick and choose which postures you do or do not want to try. The order below is the order that I tend to follow. Every day your body feels different so please be open to changing things up as needed from day today.
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Benefits: This comforting posture stretches and opens the hips and low back, which often hold tension when we are anxious.
Do: Feel the deep belly breath expanding into your lower back. Hold the posture for a minimum of 3 inhales and exhales. You can keep your arms stretched forward like the pictures below or bring them down by your sides.
Don’t: Don’t abuse your knees. If sitting like this hurts your knees, use a block under your pelvis. Don’t tense up your jaw, neck, or shoulders. Keep everything relaxed.
Benefits: This posture is great for opening the heart and stretching the sternum and upper rib joints, which often carry a lot of tension when we are anxious.
Do: Focus on lifting the sternum, or heart center, upward while engaging your core muscles, and pressing your hips forward. Keep your hips in alignment with your knees. You can keep your hands on your low back, bring your palms to your thighs or, if you feel comfortable, bring your hands down to your heels, as shown in the pictures below.
Don’t: Don’t crunch into your lower back, but keep your spine long and imagine you are trying to touch the ceiling with your chest. You do not have to bend back very far to get the benefits of the posture. The focus is more about lifting up than bending back.
Floor Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
Benefits: This posture helps relieve tension in the low back and stretches the shoulder and chest. I feel a good stretch in my IT band, hip, and glutes in this posture.
Do: Keep your bent knee connected to the floor and allow your opposite shoulder to come off the floor if needed. There are many variations to this posture, but in this example, I am keeping my bent knee on the floor and letting my opposite shoulder come up if needed. Practice deep belly breathing and hold the posture for a minimum of 3 inhales and exhales on each side.
Don’t: Don’t try to force the twist. Let it unfold slowly and deepen a little more with each deep belly breath.
Cow Face (Gomukhasana)
Benefits: This posture will help stretch and open your hips and low back. If you incorporate the arm variation, you will also help open up your shoulders and get a nice stretch in your arms. The combination of this intense stretching and deep belly breathing can provide stillness of the mind. The hips often hold many years of accumulated stress and this posture can help release that over time.
Do: Accept your hips as they are and use a block under your sit bones if needed. Practice deep belly breathing and hold the posture for a minimum of 3 inhales and exhales on each side. You focus on the full posture (1st and 2nd picture) or focus only on the lower body (3rd and 4th picture). Feel free to use blocks and for a deeper hip and low back stretch you can lean forward, but remember to keep your back straight.
Don’t: Don’t rush the posture. It takes a long time for the hips to open up and it is common for people to elevate their hips or stay up on their knees with blankets or blocks. I personally spent years sitting on a block before I ever felt comfortable lowering my hips to the floor.
Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
Benefits: This posture decompresses the lower spine, stretches the hamstrings, and increases blood flow to the head. The combination of these three benefits with deep belly breathing relieves tension and stress.
Do: Keep your knees slightly bent and let your arms relax. Feel free to try out different arm variations, as shown in the pictures below. Use blocks if you need to. Let gravity do the work as you open your lower back. Let your neck and head relax. Practice deep belly breathing and hold the posture for a minimum of 3 inhales and exhales. Feel the breath expand your lower back.
Don’t: Don’t lock or hyper-extend your knees. The focus is more on the back and less on the hamstrings. I prefer to keep my knees slightly bent, as shown in photos 3 and 4 below.
Please note: I am not implying that these postures are the “best” postures for relieving anxiety and panic, nor can I promise that you will have a positive experience each time that you use them. These are simply the postures that seem to help me the most. What I can say is that if you are breathing deeply and moving your body in a safe and supportive way, you will see some type of benefit. I encourage you to not get attached to the anxiety or panic “leaving” your body but instead try to use the postures to connect with the source of why you are feeling anxious so you can understand yourself a little bit more. Often I sit in meditation for 20 minutes after completing these postures to let my body fully relax and continue the deep belly breathing.