Breathe in, Breathe out

The practice of yoga has many forms—postures practiced on a mat, intentionally shaping our thoughts and words and actions in ways that are beneficial to us and others, breathing fully most of the time, and working at being our best selves, which is sometimes harder than it may seem. How you create, share, make your space, live, and express yourself on a daily basis, is at the center of the practice of yoga.

By slowing down our breath and observing how we feel (our body, our energy, our state of mind), we can influence how we experience what is happening to us, around us, and discern our role within it. Good, bad, and gray in-between spaces have the potential to become something quite different, depending upon how we perceive them and view them in our mind’s eye, which most often emanates from how we are already feeling (on the inside). Ever notice when you are in a bad mood, it seems like you come in contact with nasty seeming people and other hindrances to your positive progression? Likewise, when you are feeling good, do you notice more people smiling at you when your eyes meet? Are you more aware of the happy coincidences that seem to fall like mountains at your feet?

Have you noticed what happens to your breathing when you are emotionally disturbed—upset, frightened, surprised, unhinged, sad? Often it gets shallow, short, and it can feel like you are inhaling and exhaling jagged puffs of air. Sometimes for a moment or two, you might stop breathing all together, like when you are concentrating deeply or taken by surprise. How do you breathe when you feel restful, relaxed, and carefree? It almost feels like there is an endless supply of air that flows like a gift, like mystery, in and out of your lungs, in and out of your body. Your breath might be slow and long, it might even undulate your belly gently.

When you are distracted or disconnected from yourself—who you perceive yourself to be within your roles, relationships, and responsibilities—there is no way you can relax, get calm, or feel peaceful. At its core, your yoga practice has the potential to connect you more fully to the stillness always inside of you.

Right now, where you are, begin to practice yoga by watching your breath for a few rounds of breathing: inhale, exhale, breathe in, breathe out. Where does your breath move in your torso, your chest, your rib cage, your belly? How does your breath feel as it flows in and out of your lungs? Are you consciously making yourself breathe or does it feel like your body is breathing you? Spend some quality time with your inhalation and exhalation; can you climb on them as they go up and down, can you lift lighter and fly freer?

Now that you’ve spent time observing how you breathe, deepen your breath practice. Try to regulate how your breath flows, affects, and strengthens you with this Three-Part Breathing exercise from Yoga Girls’ Club: Do Yoga, Make Art, Be You.

Three-Part Breathing

  • You will divide your breath into three parts as you breathe into your belly (the bottom of your lungs), into your rib cage (the middle of your lungs), and into your chest (the very top of your lungs). This is a calming breath that you can practice anyplace, anytime.
  • Inflate your belly with breath, count: one, two. With the same breath, expand your rib cage, count: one, two. Same breath, fill (and feel) your chest with breath, count: one, two. Hold your breath in for a count of two.
  • Breathe out from the space of your chest count: one, two. Same breath, knit your ribs together as you empty them of air, count: one, two. Same breath, deflate your belly as you empty your lungs completely: one, two. Hold your breath out for a count of two.
  • For nine rounds of breathing, swell and deflate your belly like a balloon, feel your ribs expand and contract like an accordion, and experience your chest rising and falling like waves in the sea.

Release your influence on your breathing and return to your normal inhale and exhale. Watch your breath (in and out) for a few rounds. How do you feel now; your body, your energy, your mindset? As you practice being in the space of your breath, noticing how it feels, you are nourishing your body and quieting your mind, nothing outside of this space within you is necessary for you to relax, release, and create space for ‘you.’

Tiffani Bryant, PhD, is the author of Yoga Girls’ Club: Do Yoga, Make Art, Be You, an interactive workbook filled with easy-to-follow yoga postures, breathing practices, meditation techniques, and opportunities for self-reflection through making stuff that matters.

‘This slim volume deserves savoring’—One reader’s review of Archetypal Imagery and the Spiritual Self

One reader’s review of Archetypal Imagery and the Spiritual Self: Techniques for Coaches and Therapists by Annabelle Nelson.

“This slim volume deserves savoring. What I mean is captured by these cherished words of a dying friend: ‘Must be present to win.’ Nelson’s book demands attention and rewards re-reading. She writes about intentionally seeking an expansive, wise mind. That search and its prize, she says, brings a fuller, quieting outlook on reality, access to previously locked energy, and greater capacity to perceive and achieve one’s highest goals. The method she advances is to thoughtfully select an archetype whose attributes or deeds appear somehow relevant to one’s current situation (a dilemma, perhaps, or a crisis). The next step is to bring the archetype to mind through imagination, using all of one’s senses and the guidance of a coach or therapist, the book’s intended readers as mentioned on the cover.

Our thoughts, feelings, judgments, and actions are already influenced by archetypes, Nelson says, but subconsciously, out of our awareness. They are denizens, one might say, of our hidden mind. Images and emotions are the language of this unconscious realm. When one engages the skills of imagining an archetype, that larger-than-life, mysterious, and possibly mythic being can become a focusing device to override the ego’s control of one’s rationality and open access to non-rational, even counterintuitive and frightening features of one’s psyche.

This coaching model assumes that humans have four bodies, the spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental, which is usually controlled by the ego. The ego is a positive part of human psychology, giving stability, organizing the personality and establishing a sense of self. But over time it becomes rigid, skewing perceptions and relegating uncomfortable thoughts and sensations to the unconscious. This is accomplished by eating up mental energy, and restricting both rational and intuitive thinking and emotional awareness. However, if one softens the ego and thereby the barrier to the other bodies, this in effect creates a more spacious mind. Information from the other bodies, emotional, physical and spiritual, can enter conscious awareness. (p. 182)

The tone of the book is both professional and personal; its material is presented as a synthesis of the understanding Nelson has derived from four decades as a psychologist, teacher, coach and spiritual seeker.

‘Looking at models of the mind both from Western psychology and Eastern religious philosophy gives some guideposts for understanding what happens when the conscious mind opens to the unconscious.’ (p. 28)

The result is a tapestry that shows as sometimes parallel, often coextensive, the paths to emotional health and to spiritual awakening. Nelson ignores conventions against treating in the same conversation these two subjects: one known through logic and the other through intuition. That is the power of this book. It is but an introduction—a handbook, even, for busy practitioners with clients to serve—to the idea that these knowledge fields share common ends and means.

Although I am interested in these subjects, I am unacquainted with present-day thinking and writing about them and am neither coach nor therapist. Nonetheless, I have gained greatly from the insights this book offers. It must be taken on its own terms. It abounds in metaphors. The proof is in the pudding. I have followed to surprisingly good effect the exercises and other aids Nelson provides. She makes no claims that her techniques produce overnight transformation. Anything but, really. As the stories she tells from her own life and the experiences of her clients illustrate, she’s all about the long term, about initially faint apprehensions ripening with familiarity into a new knowing.

In the creative process, the intuitive and rational are intertwined… The wise mind is spacious, allowing opposites to coexist. When logic is needed it can come to the foreground while intuition is in the background, or vice versa. Awareness keeps the space open for the interplay to happen. (p. 177)

Certainly, I carry from this reading a deeper respect for intuition and for using imagery to develop it. Another thing sure to be remembered from this book is the rich possibility of archetypes to reveal otherwise inexpressible truths.

The ‘spiritual self’ of the title has nothing to do with organized religion and none of the archetypes described are drawn from the Abrahamic traditions. Rather most of the illustrative archetypes pre-date and no doubt contributed to these traditions. Nelson invokes the Major Arcana from the Tarot (e.g., Fool, Magician, Chariot, Justice, Hermit) to speak of emotional development and ancient deities from Eastern mythology (e.g., Lilith, Isis, Gaia, Ganesha, Avalokiteshara) to explore spiritual development.

My favorite chapter is the final one, ‘What if Life Were Sweet?’ Of course its impact depends upon everything conveyed in the preceding chapters. Here is a brief excerpt:

Opening the mind to wisdom is not an easy task. It is a complex and simultaneously subtle endeavor. The ego’s hold on stability is sacrificed for the connection to spirit that brings peace and joy. The delusion of control and separation erodes to a softer, warmer and friendlier awareness. The sense of Self is not constricted to fragmented thoughts or overwhelming emotions. Trust doesn’t rest with control of the inner world, but with the sense of interconnection. Stability comes from a focus of attention, not from a defensive posture.

There is a theme in both the deity and tarot archetypes. Almost all of them face a crisis. Lilith is thrown out of Eden. Isis’ husband is taken and murdered. Avalokiteshvara loses his faith and his brain is shattered, while Ganesha’s head is cut off. These deities became powerful in the face of despair, pain, grief and rejection. The world they inhabited ended in some way, and survival depended on adaptation to tap the power inside to become wise. The unconscious not only contained their fears, but also hid their strengths. When the unconscious is opened, hidden strengths are apparent. An individual is essentially changed from the inside out since there is more energy and power. (p. 181)”—Michele Minnis, PhD

Michele Minnis, PhD, is retired from a career at the University of New Mexico, where she of taught legal and expository writing, did research on cross-disciplinary collaboration, and served on the founding faculty of a master’s degree program in water resources management. She and Annabelle went to graduate school together at the University of Kansas, Department of Human Development.

For more information or to purchase a copy of Archetypal Imagery and the Spiritual Self, click here.

Improve patient’s experience through relationship-building – interview with Jane Wood

Jane Wood

Jane Wood has been involved in reflective practice for the last 20 years.  She is a supervisor and teacher of reflective practice at the University of Westminster and is the head

of practitioner development and reflective practice at the International School of Homeopathy, London.

Jane Wood’s new book The Compassionate Practitioner is now available from Singing Dragon. This handbook, full of practical tips and supportive advice, explains how best to enhance the client’s experience through compassion and mindfulness. This book will be a valued support for anyone working in private practice.

What inspired you to write this book?

I have been teaching the practitioner-patient relationship to students at college and at the University of Westminster for nearly 20 years. At the same time, I have been supervising qualified alternative practitioners and seen their struggles to build up a private practice. Many practitioners talked about the same issues in supervision: their patients were demanding, impatient or simply didn’t return. The practitioners needed to find a way to create trust, loyalty and staying power. They could do this if they improved the patient’s experience during the consultation. I realized I was in a position to write a book that takes the practitioner through every stage of the consultation, giving them lots of practical advice on how to create a healing relationship with the patient – and gain a flourishing practice.

 

Why is relationship building so important for people working in private practice?

I strongly believe that relationship building is vitally important for everyone in the caring professions whether they are alternative practitioners, counsellors and therapists or traditional doctors, nurses and consultants. Unfortunately, most orthodox practitioners do not have the time available to do much relationship building, leaving both the practitioner and the patient feeling dissatisfied and rushed. Many alternative practitioners such as homeopaths, acupuncturists, and body workers have longer sessions with their patients, which allow them more time to work on the relationship.

On the surface, making an effort to improve the experience for the patient will increase their trust and loyalty to the practitioner, but it is more than this. When the practitioner takes time to make the patient feel safe and appreciated, the patient can start to relax and explain themselves better; which in turn enables the practitioner to give a better treatment.

The added bonus for anyone in private practice, is that once there is a good relationship, the patient will help build up the practice by referring other people.

There are many different ways in which the practitioner can improve their patients’ experiences. One way is consider the clinic environment. I suggest that practitioners take five or ten minutes to sit in the patient’s chair, quieting their mind by focusing on the breath. Once they are quiet and relaxed, they can bring themselves into the present moment and use all of their senses to assess the clinic room. What is the feel of the chair they are sitting in? Is it comfortable? What is the room temperature? What smells are there?  Can they hear the receptionist or another therapist working in the next room? If so, does this impact on confidentiality?

 

What can practitioners do to improve their patients’ experiences?

The appearance of the room will make a big difference to the patient. If the practitioner is behind a desk they will feel more secure, but the patient will feel distanced. What do the patient’s eyes rest on when they are not talking? Considering the clinic room through the senses will give the practitioner a taste of what the patient experiences. They then need to consider what they can do to improve the current environment.

Another suggestion for improving the patient’s experience is that the practitioner should explain to the patient what will happen during the consultation. This is called ‘signposting’ and should be done at the beginning of the session. It can be very brief, such as, ‘I’m going to invite you to talk about yourself and your problem for the first twenty minutes, and then I’ll give you a treatment which takes about thirty minutes. You’ll need to take off your shoes and get onto the treatment couch. After the treatment we’ll see how you feel.” Once this has been clarified, the patient knows what to expect and can relax.

 

How can practitioners maintain balance in their work and avoid burnout?

Being a practitioner and listening to many patients talking about themselves is a great privilege and helping them can be deeply rewarding.  But sometimes the price is too high. There are several different causes of burnout, including working for very long hours, anxiety about patients or unconsciously taking on the patients’ negative emotions. The last one occurs mainly when there is a long time spent face-to-face with the patient, such as for counsellors, therapists or homeopaths. Our brains are programmed to read other people’s body language and facial expressions, so that we can empathise or feel their emotions.

The patient’s emotions can be directly experienced by the practitioner who might carry home a patient’s anger or depression. An awareness of this will help them consciously make more breaks in eye contact, and change their own body language more often so they don’t unconsciously mirror the patient so much.

Another way to avoid burnout is to make sure the practitioner has enough personal time to have fun and relax. This might sound obvious but when a single practitioner is running a private practice, they have to be their own marketing manager, record keeper and accountant and this all takes time. The practitioner needs to balance the intense work in the clinic with care for themselves, physically, mentally and emotionally.

 

You write a lot about self-reflection. Who do you think should do it and why do think it’s important?

Wood_Compassionate-P_978-1-84819-222-5_colourjpg-web

Self-reflection is a process of self-examination, of thinking seriously about your own character or actions. In the caring professions this will mean exploring something about the practitioner-patient relationship in order to understand it in more depth and decide what can be done to improve it. It is not nearly as effective if it is done within the limitations of the practitioners mind, and much better if it’s done out loud in front of a colleague or supervisor, or written into a self-reflective journal. If something went well, the practitioner can make a note of it so that they can repeat it. If it didn’t go well they can analyse why and plan how to change things next time. As I see it, all practitioners should be doing self-reflection. Their learning taught them how to work with the average patient. Experience shows them that patients are anything but average and everyone is very different. Self-reflection raises the standards of the practitioner and everyone gains from it: the practitioner, the patient, the clinic and the profession in general.

 

 2014  Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved

 

VIDEO: Christa Mackinnon on using shamanism techniques and approaches in therapy

In this exclusive video, Christa Mackinnon gets to the heart of how adjusted shamanic healing techniques can be a major asset to any therapeutic practice.


Christa Mackinnon is the Founder and Director of Kamdaris Psychological Consultancy and Training and is an Honorary Fellow and Associated Lecturer at Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, UK, where she teaches special study units on trauma as well as clinical hypnosis. She is a social psychologist, family counsellor, clinical hypnotherapist and group facilitator with over 25 years of professional experience as a therapist as well as an international trainer and lecturer.

Christa has spent time as an apprentice to shamans in South America and has received various trainings from spiritual and shamanic teachers in Asia, the USA and the UK, which led her to design and run training courses for therapeutic professionals combining western approaches with indigenous spiritual teachings. She is the author of Shamanism and Spirituality in Therapeutic Practice: An Introduction.

Explore the sounds of The Tzolkin Trilogy – Yidaki music for sound therapy

The didgeridoo, or yidaki, is one of the most ancient musical instruments on Earth. The Tzolkin Trilogy, by Daniel Reid and Si Mullumby, showcases the primal sound of the didgeridoo as it has never before been heard, in three original compositions, based on the Mayan calendar. This unique sound has been shaped and developed into a form that can act as a tool for healing and spiritual awakening.

Using the Traditional Chinese Medicine principle that degeneration in the physical body is caused by imbalance and functional disharmony within the energy system, the sound vibrations work to connect with the human body’s natural energy vibrations, in order to rebalance and restore their functional harmony and imbue the listener with a renewed sense of lightness and freedom.

Listen to a clip from Track 1: Habla Tune – The Cellular Sound

 

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2012.

 

How to Incorporate Wellness Coaching into Your Therapeutic Practice – An Interview with author Laurel Alexander

Laurel Alexander is a complementary therapist, coach, trainer and widely published author with over 20 years of experience in the wellness industry. She runs Wellness Professionals at Work, providing business coaching for healthcare professionals and a range of accredited wellness courses. She is a qualified reflexologist, nutritionist and stress manager and is currently the business coach for the Association of Reflexologists, the International Stress Management Association and the National Council of Psychotherapists. She is based in Sussex, UK.

Here, Laurel explains her passion for wellness and introduces readers to her new handbook for therapists and counsellors, How to Incorporate Wellness Coaching into Your Therapeutic Practice.


 
How did you come to the field of wellness?

When I left school, I wanted to be a nurse (that was either my mother’s fantasy or mine). With the contrariness of teenage years, I became a window dresser in a fashion shop instead. Over the following years, I developed an interest in self development and this became my working life. The next few years saw added work with career management and a fading link with self development. At 39, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and this reconnected me to my intuition and passion for wellness. For the past 13 years, I’ve worked solely in the area of wellness; writing, teaching and as a therapist/coach.

What experience(s) motivated you to write the book?

Much of my working life as been as a wellness professional. Many moons ago, my students suggested I added the teaching of life coaching to my courses which I did. Over time, this has evolved into teaching of wellness coaching. Writing of course is another way of teaching – so here I am today.

The book is designed to be used as building blocks in terms of underpinning knowledge and skills development. Therapists can take ideas from the book and develop themselves both personally and professionally.

I would hope therapists would take away information, ideas and inspiration for their own wellbeing and that of their patients and clients.

What are the key characteristics of wellness coaching that make it a useful addition to a counsellor or complementary therapist’s toolbox?

As healthcare professionals move into the 21st century, coaching offers a highly effective skill set which can complement a therapist’s practice. Key characteristics include:

  • being non-directive (thereby empowering clients);
  • questioning and listening skills (useful to gain information so that we are better informed);
  • integration of coaching skills into a variety of therapeutic approaches (offering an eclectic toolbox approach to healthcare)

Let’s not forget we are in the “business of healthcare”. We may come to wellness as a vocational calling. We may feel motivated and inspired to work with others in a healing capacity for the highest good. However, we are business people and if we are to stay in business, we need a range of transferable skills which are marketable and useful. Coaching is one of those key skills.

Can you describe a typical client who would benefit from wellness coaching techniques, or a particular case in which the use of these techniques has proved effective?

The best of scenarios with a wellness client is someone who is pro-active in their healthcare, who is a seeker of self knowledge and who is willing to embrace all possibilities.

How does the book reflect your general philosophy about wellness?

My philosophy about wellness is multi-faceted. There is rarely one route into, and out of, wellness. There are often several contributing factors including lifestyle and mindset. We also need to bear in mind that wellness may not mean “no disease” or “less pain”. It may mean pathways of acceptance or transition.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.