The Presence of Peace: Breathing Calmly Amidst Holiday Stress

Julie Dunlop, author of Ocean of Yoga: Meditations on Yoga and Ayurveda for Balance, Awareness, and Well-Being shares tips on breathing calmly amidst holiday stress.

Are you one of those people who tries to “get through” the holidays? What would it take for you to shift to “moving through” the holidays or “experiencing” the holidays rather than just trying to get through them? Although the difference in this wording is somewhat subtle, it can be significant as we shift from survival mode into a more holistic acceptance of the process of being present—mind, body, and soul—for the holidays.The glow of Christmas trees, menorahs, and Diwali candles, along with many other images and traditions from richly diverse cultures, light our way through the holidays each year. Along with the beauty of holiday decorations and celebrations, however, often comes a fair amount of stress. This could be financial stress or the stress of physical exhaustion from simply trying to keep up with all of the extra events. It could also be emotional stress due to an injury or illness, challenging family dynamics, or grief from the loss of a loved one. Pause for a moment and check in: On a scale of 1 to 10, what is your current stress level? Breathe. Look around you. Then, look within. Is there any crisis taking place in the current moment, or is the stress generating from within? Feel the soft rhythm of your inhale and exhale washing through you with grace.

Gifts are often a part of the holiday season, whether we are shopping for gifts, purchasing gifts, making gifts, wrapping gifts, mailing gifts, returning gifts, or all of the above. Sometimes the most valuable gifts, however, are those that are intangible, such as peace, fulfillment, acceptance, joy, balance, and well-being. Consider also “The Gift of Collapse”:

(from Ocean of Yoga by Julie Dunlop):

 The Gift of Collapse

There is a precision in the symmetry of ancient civilizations and the geometry of modern society. In both Yoga and Āyurveda, we focus on balance, praising it as a path to well-being. And yet, if there is over-focus on balance, we can veer into perfectionism, judging ourselves without mercy. If there is a priority on keeping everything together, this constriction can keep us from being available to the vulnerability, the softness, the openness of living authentically. Sometimes it takes a complete collapse—physically, mentally, or emotionally—or all three—or at least a wobbling, a wavering, a significant undoing of our balance—to humble us, to recalibrate our systems, to re-wire our way of looking at ourselves and others. 

So the next time you fall out of a pose, fall out of a relationship, fall out of alignment with the person you thought you were, see if you can see this as an invitation for transformation rather than as a failure. More valuable than the appearance of perfection is the impeccability of our willingness to encounter our full selves. Through each collapse, our humility deepens, opening our heart-mind to the wisdom of both the imbalance and balance as shadow and light intertwine.

Consider the first three words that come to your mind when you think of the holidays.  Are there things that you think or feel about the holidays that you do not express? The incongruity of feeling or thinking one way and feeling pressure to act in another way can be challenging and stress-inducing at any time, but especially at the holidays. For instance, perhaps you are part of a large extended family that expects you to visit each year but you prefer solitude at the holidays, or vice versa. Perhaps you have a different set of spiritual or religious traditions than the rest of your family or choose to eat or behave in a different way than your family members. If there is a lack of acceptance of these differences, all of this can cause quite a bit of indigestion at the mental and emotional level, sometimes manifesting at the physical level as well.

Lion Pose, where we open the mouth, extend the tongue, gaze upward, and exhale forcefully, can offer a very therapeutic non-verbal release at the throat chakra. Try it five times and see what you feel.

While we may often think of yoga as physical postures on a mat, yoga actually has eight limbs. The first two limbs (yama and niyama) offer us ancient wisdom for daily life.  Ahimsa (non-violence) invites us to be compassionate to others and also to ourselves.  Given the many habits we have developed over the years and the strength that many holiday traditions hold, it can feel daunting to modify a holiday in any way. Tapas (the fire of transformation) can help. Through self-discipline, we can choose to change a way of thinking, speaking, or acting that can bring our holiday experiences into closer alignment with our priorities and beliefs. For instance, we might replace money spent on travel with money donated to those in need—or we might replace money spent on gifts with time spent with loved ones. The options are endless, and once a spark of innovation begins, the flow of creativity can bring forth healing on many layers in many different directions.

We may be able to change a lot internally and externally this holiday season, or we may not, given the complex constellation of factors in which we dwell. Santosha (acceptance) asks us to be content, to accept the current reality with truth, with grace, with authenticity. Given the nature of the translucent thread of impermanence woven through every moment, there may be changes awaiting our holidays that we cannot even begin to imagine. This is where the flexibility we may develop in yoga or another mind/body practice can support us, as we continue to adapt to the present—the gift of the present moment delivered to us in each unfolding breath.

Rather than pushing away any feelings of sadness, grief, loneliness, longing, or despair that may be conjured up by the holidays, see if you may be able to honor them, simply by acknowledging them as part of the journey. Taking the companion of a candle, sit with the warmth of its light, feeling in its glow the light that will return to your path.  Feel the flow of your breath, the rhythm of its presence that is with you always. Breathe in peace, forgiveness, love; exhale any hurt or anger you may harbor in your heart.

Then, placing both hands on your heart, breathe into all that you are feeling. After several minutes, then place your palms together, bringing to your awareness five things—tangible or intangible, small or large—that you are grateful for. Slowly unwrap each of these sacred gifts, taking time to appreciate the nuances of their origins, their abiding support. With appreciation for these gifts, consider what you may be able to give—to yourself and/or to others. In what ways might you offer an hour of your time, perhaps visiting with a friend or someone who is injured or ill, making a meal for someone, or sending cards, emails, texts, or photos with messages that resonate authentically with your heart?

Similarly, in what ways might you enhance your experience of the holidays through the gifts of the five senses?

Sight~

  • Consider FaceTiming or Skyping with a friend or family member you haven’t seen in a long time
  • Gaze for five minutes at a sacred image of a place, person, or object that means a lot to you, feeling the depth of your gratitude
  • Look inward, gazing at all the various pieces of yourself with acceptance, respect, compassion, understanding
  • Look up at night, taking in the luminosity of the moon and stars

Sound~

  • Call a loved one and enjoy the unique vibrations of this voice as it travels across the miles into the intricately designed curves of your ear
  • Listen to music—either an old familiar favorite or treat your ears (and soul) to a brand new artist, or even an entirely new genre
  • Enjoy five minutes or more of silence, feeling the gentle wave-like flow of your breath, experiencing the present of being present

Scent~

  • Bring fresh greenery, such as pine branches, into your home or office
  • Enjoy the scent of an essential oil, such as lavender, or choose a scented candle to light
  • Let the aroma of a traditional dessert baking fill your kitchen
  • Notice the aroma as you sip a cup of herbal tea, such a ginger, peppermint, or chamomile
  • Sit close to a warm crackling fire and enjoy the scents of the burning logs
  • Invite the scent of incense, such as frankincense or sandalwood, to waft through the home

Taste~

  • Make a favorite holiday food from your childhood and share it with someone (If you don’t have the recipe, look online for a similar one and approximate it as best as you can)
  • Try a new restaurant, or order something for the first time from a familiar restaurant
  • Treat yourself to ordering a new cookbook
  • Select several items from the produce aisle that you have never tried
  • Have a holiday potluck with your friends, neighbors, or co-workers

Touch~

  • Offer yourself the gift of massage, marma, acupuncture, or another form of bodywork
  • Go into nature and pick up pinecones, leaves, stones; touch the bark of a tree, the sand on a beach
  • Notice the feel of the touch of the wind as it brushes your skin
  • Enjoy a warm bubble bath or bathe with sea salt

Regardless of how you choose to explore or experience the holidays, know that while holidays can be a precious part of life, they are just one facet of the exquisite composition of life. Ultimately, every day is a holiday, a cause for reflection and celebration, when we take notice of each moment’s ephemeral nature and return to what resides inherently within:

Ocean Within
(from Ocean of Yoga by Julie Dunlop)

 Within you, an ocean of peace.
Within you, an ocean of love,
understanding, compassion flowing.
Feel its waves washing over you,
through you, washing every bone, every cell,
every feeling, every thought.

 An ocean of truth and beauty within.
The brilliance of sunlight dancing upon water,
and the gentle rhythm of the waves,
this beauty, this peace, alive and flowing, in you.

 You—an ocean of light.
You—an ocean of peace.
Your love, like the ocean, vast and deep.

 Flowing through you, the loveliness of the sea.

 You, the ocean.  You, the waves.
You, the light on water.
You, the peacefulness washing upon every shore.

 ~

For more information on Ocean of Yoga, please visit our website.

 

 

How can reflexology help children?

Susan Quayle, author of the ‘Mouse’ series, spoke to us to discuss her background in reflexology, the concept behind her books and how the practice of reflexology can help children.

 

Susan, you’ve been a reflexologist for a number of years. How did you discover reflexology?

I actually believe that reflexology discovered me, despite my resistance to it.

I first came across it at a green festival in Dorset. I tried it and found it extremely relaxing. At the time I was a hardcore horticulturalist, plants were my passion, but I did buy Laura Norman’s book and was fascinated with the whole idea.

Shortly after this my sister-in-law became pregnant and suffered very badly with Hyperemisis Gravidarum and my first step on the road to becoming a maternity reflexologist, unbeknownst to me, was when I would visit her and give her the treatment for morning sickness from Laura’s book. It always made her feel better.

 

It was another ten years before I retrained in massage therapy and followed this training with sports massage. Unfortunately, the sports massage tutor wasn’t very good and we all felt that we would never get through the exam or have the required knowledge to work in this field so we left en-mass. The only other course that was running was the reflexology diploma, which I was very unsure about joining. Fortunately I did and came to realise very quickly what an incredible therapy it is. I have trained in many therapies but reflexology has been the focus of my career followed closely by aromatherapy.

 

What do you think it is about reflexology that is so beneficial for children’s physical and mental well-being?

I have seen reflexology totally relax children, almost instantly; their eyes glaze and have a far away look in them and it happens very quickly if the child is in need of the treatment.

Reflexology promotes a profoundly deep relaxation that often feels like a switch being flicked and a part of you just sinks into a deep restfulness. It is during this deep rest and quiet space that the body is able to begin a healing response.

Children are open to new experiences and engage fully, when they feel safe and comfortable, which enables them to reach this place of healing and relaxation very quickly. As they are so young and untainted by life-long indulgences their body can rebalance quickly and often does.

Every day our children are put under more and more pressure to perform, conform and do well. Their physical and mental health is constantly under threat and children with supportive families are just as likely as those without to be prescribed drugs for depression now.

Complementary therapies are an important part of family life. In so many cultures around the world, where appropriate, nurturing touch is shared by the whole family not just given to the babies and young children.

Touch helps children to be more accepting of their body and the changes taking place, touch is an important part of being human and I think is particularly important for teenagers, who would accept it more readily if it had been part of their every day life delivered within the safety of a loving family.

 

Your new book (and the other books in your series) focuses around characters and a story to accompany a reflexology exercise. How did you find this process?

As with all processes that appear to arrive from nowhere, my first book had actually been many years in the making; deep inside my head where all the creativity is happening without me even really knowing about it.

Both my children were brought up with a love of books; we read to them every day and sang songs, our favourites were always the rhyming stories and songs. So it all began with Slinky Malinky, The Gruffalo, The Snail and the Whale, Green Eggs and Ham and all those wonderful books for children. I have always been pretty good at putting little rhymes together for children’s cards and things so the rhyming was fixed a long time ago.

The actual ‘Eureka’ moment, like Archimedes, occurred in the bath, a great place for parents to get a moment’s peace and actually lose themselves in thoughts. I jumped out and wrote the first draft instantly, that was the effect of all those years of preparation in the hidden corners of my brain! Many months’ work followed but that very first draft took place on October 12th 2012. I have never been so excited or bewildered!

Once I had the idea it was only really a matter of allowing the story to develop in my head. I think I could come up with them forever!

 

What reaction have you had to your books so far?

The reaction to the books has been wonderful. They have been embraced by the reflexology community and have even won awards, along with The Children’s Reflexology Programme, (the teaching programme that now goes with them). I think it was such a unique and novel idea to put reflexology to a story and also to make this lovely, gentle complementary therapy available to children. Children have embraced it whole heartedly; they love the animal characters, finding the animals on their own feet but also sharing such healthy, positive touch with family and friends. Complementary therapy made accessible through play offers a positive understanding of issues relating to health, self care and nurturing, positive touch within families but also within communities.

 

How is Mouse and the Storm different from the other books in your series?

My latest book Mouse and the Storm differs from the first two in that it contains hand reflexology. The first two books use foot reflexology so are more about giving and receiving reflexology. Book three is about giving and receiving too, but it also focuses on self treatment. Mouse and the Storm was written specifically to support parents of children with additional needs and to go with our courses for these parents.

Being able to self treat offers many children who have challenges with day-to-day transitions, between places and activities, strategies to help them. It also allows children with sensitivity issues to take control of the pressure and touch that is used on them. We have seen some wonderful results with both the book and the course, and with these children loving and engaging with the animal characters too. We have had reports of children coming home from school and telling their parents how many times they visited Mouse that day.

 

Are there any challenges you have encountered when using reflexology with children?

Using reflexology with children can be as challenging as trying to get them to engage in anything else. It can take time to build a relationship with them, which can create some awkward moments! If a child doesn’t want reflexology the chances are that today you won’t be giving any. However if you are careful you may well sow the seeds that will allow you to treat them next time. Children are naturally curious and once they have made a connection with you they will put their trust in you and love to learn. You can’t force a child so really it is about releasing your own ego and making it all about the child. I had one little boy whose mum used to come to me for reflexology and I always gave him a bit too. He wouldn’t allow anyone to give him reflexology except me – he grew out of it soon enough and now gives his baby sister reflexology as well as his parents; he’s only five.

 

Lastly, what do you hope readers take away from your book?

My passion is reflexology. I wrote my books so that I could share the huge benefits of reflexology with as many families as I could. I hope that the next generation will grow up not only knowing what reflexology is but what it feels like to receive and what it feels like to give, and value it as a resource available to them with little cost or effort. Hopefully these children will grow up wanting to share these books with their own children and so pass their knowledge on to the next generation.

Reflexology is an experience, a powerful human connection on a deeply personal and nurturing level that I hope will resonate with every child that encounters it through my books at a young age. To value connection and humanity through our basic human need, touch, is a value worth instilling from as early an age as possible. Complementary therapies are a gentle way of bringing communities together in health, well being, nurture and caring. Our children need to grow up in the warm embrace of these life skills for their own good health and that of each other. Our families and communities need to reconnect on the most basic level. This is a part of what I hope my books can bring about.

 

If you would like to read more articles like this and hear the latest news and offers on our books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer, and please also tell us about your areas of interest so we can send the most relevant information. You can unsubscribe at any time.


To view the whole series by Susan Quayle, please click here.

Mouse and the Storm

A hand reflexology programme designed to relieve anxiety in children, accompanied by a soothing story about dealing with unexpected disruptions

 

Mouse’s Best Day Ever

A charming story about Mouse and her friends as they find fun on a stormy day with an accompanying simple reflexology treatment to help relieve discomfort from teething, constipation and colic

 

The Mouse’s House

An enchanting story about a mouse’s mission to make a cosy home for Winter with an accompanying simple reflexology massage for parents or carers to perform on a child

Inside the Mouse’s House…

by Susan Quayle, author of Mouse’s Best Day Ever

Sitting at the kitchen table were my two children and my daughter’s two friends, who had come over to play. They were having lunch and chattering away as children do, when I heard, “Poppy’s got a reward chart,” after which there was a brief silence, followed by, “for going to the toilet.” I have to admit that this was not exactly what I was expecting to hear. I turned around to join in the conversation, asking “how does that work then?”

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Drawing and Writing about Anxiety

Koscik-WhenAnxietyAttacks-C2W

When Anxiety Attacks is a graphic memoir about living with anxiety and finding help through a therapist. In this blog, Terian Koscik, author and illustrator, gives an inside look to her experience of drawing and writing about anxiety.

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One of the hardest parts about living with anxiety is trying to explain what it’s like to friends and family who don’t experience it. To them, it makes no sense that someone who is usually capable of making clear, rational decisions would have fears and thoughts that are totally irrational. What they don’t realize is that anxious people are often perfectly aware of how irrational our thoughts are. This doesn’t make it any easier to ignore them, though. Dealing with anxiety, beginning to understand it after going to therapy for the first time, and trying to convey my new sense of understanding to others led me to want to create a comic book about the experience.

As a child, my anxieties appeared blatantly silly and irrational to outside observers. I would panic whenever the phone rang, worried about what would happen if we didn’t answer it before it went to voicemail. What if it was an extremely important call, and they needed to talk to us right then? Or what if they thought we didn’t care?

As adults, we have a lot more in our lives to worry and panic about, and the line between what is silly and what isn’t is harder to see, especially if one’s default state is to worry. After graduating from college, my best friend from high school moved in with me, and I was distraught when she didn’t seem as enthusiastic about living together as I was. I constantly thought about what I was doing wrong when she chose to spend her time alone instead of with me, and whether I was capable of making any friends at all. I ended up going to therapy to talk about these feelings. I gradually realized that my worries were based on a general fear of being alone rather than anyone’s specific actions, that I could address them directly by asking others for help, and that there was nothing wrong with me for feeling this way.

In my book “When Anxiety Attacks,” I used dramatically different color palettes to demonstrate the way that irrational anxious thinking separates one from their usual ability to consider facts and possibilities. Other people and possibilities other than the worst case scenario do not exist in this state of mind. This makes it difficult or impossible for well-meaning loved ones to get through to us when in this state. For example, if I felt lonely, someone might remind me that I have many friends and family to turn to for reassurance. However, my anxious thinking would find a way to ignore this advice. Wouldn’t my friends and family have more important things to do than listen to me complain? Did I even deserve their attention?

Through therapy I have found that as anxious people, the best we can do is remain open to facts and possibilities, and not judge ourselves too harshly for the tendency to worry. I hope that my book will help others reach this conclusion.

Terian Koscik has been a reader of comics, a creator of comics, and an anxious person for almost as long as she can remember. Most of her work is autobiographical in nature, and deals with finding humor in feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. She posts her work regularly at http://pineconedoesthings.tumblr.com/. Terian lives in Portland, Oregon with 4 humans and 2 rabbits.

Tweet in a drawing of your anxious self to @Singing_Dragon_ using the hashtag #AnxiousMe to enter the chance to win a copy of When Anxiety Attacks

Learn more about When Anxiety Attacks here

Call for Comic and Graphic novel submissions

Singing Dragon and Jessica Kingsley Publishers have recently started developing an exciting new line of comics and graphics novels and we are now open for submissions.

Singing Dragon publishes authoritative books on all aspects of Chinese medicine, yoga therapy, aromatherapy, massage, Qigong and complementary and alternative health more generally, as well as Oriental martial arts. Find out more on www.singingdragon.com

JKP are committed to publishing books that make a difference. The range of subjects includes autism, dementia, social work, art therapies, mental health, counselling, palliative care and practical theology. Have a look on www.jkp.com for the full range of titles.

If you have an idea that you think would work well as a graphic book, or are an artist interested in working with us, here is what we are looking for:

Graphic novel or comic – Long form

We are looking for book proposals that are between 100 and 200 pages, black and white or colour, and explore the topics listed above or another subject that would fit into the JKP/Singing Dragon list. Specifically we are hoping to develop more personal autobiographical stories.

Here are the guidelines for submission:

  1. A one-page written synopsis detailing the plot/outline of the book, as well as short bios of all the creators involved.
  2. Character sketches of the main characters with descriptions.
  3. Solo artist/writers or writer and artist teams should submit 5 to 10 completed pages to allow us to get a sense of the pace, art style and writing.
  4. Solo writers will need to submit 10 to 20 pages of script as well as the one-page synopsis from point 1.

Comic – Short form

We have some shorter comic projects underway and are looking to expand the range of topics covered. These books can run from 20 to 40 pages, black and white or colour, with dimensions of 170x230mm. We are mainly looking for comics that provide ideas and information for both professionals and general readers.

For example, the first in this series, published by Singing Dragon, is a book exploring the latest developments in chronic pain research.

Here are the guidelines for submission:

  1. A one-page written synopsis detailing the narrative style and subject matter to be explored in the book. Also include short bios of all the creators involved.
  2. Solo artist/writers or writer and artist teams should submit 3 to 5 completed pages to allow us to get a sense of the pace, art style and writing.
  3. Solo writers will need to submit 5 to 10 pages of script as well as the one-page synopsis from point 1.

When submitting please provide low-res images and send them, along with everything else, to Mike Medaglia at mike.medaglia@jkp.com

If you have any other ideas that don’t directly relate to the subjects described above but you feel might still fit into the Singing Dragon or JKP list, please feel free to get in touch with ideas and enquiries on the email above.

Books for Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental health awareness week is a great time to look at how natural therapies can complement mental health treatment and be fundamental to keeping the mind healthy and preventing problems in later life. Here is a selection of some of Singing Dragon’s books for improving mental health.

                                                                                                                                                     

Recovery and Renewal by Baylissa Frederick

Frederick_Recovery-and-Re_978-1-84905-534-5_colourjpg-webMany people will be perscribed medication at some point in their lives to help with a mental health issue, but they can lead to dependency and coming off prescription drugs can be one of this most challenging parts of maintaining mental health. This book will be a lifeline for anyone taking or withdrawing from sleeping pills, other benzodiazepine tranquillisers and antidepressants. The author draws on her personal experience of coming off benzodiazepine tranquillisers to explain everything you need to know about withdrawal, including how to identify symptoms, manage them, and take firm steps towards recovery. It’s an uplifting, empowering read which will also be useful to families and friends of people overcoming perscription drug dependency, as well as medical professionals.

 

 

                                                                                                                                                     

Managing Depression with Qigong by Frances Gaik and Managing Stress with Qigong by Gordon Faulkner

Gaik_Managing-Depres_978-1-84819-018-4_colourjpg-webFaulkner_Managing-Stress_978-1-84819-035-1_colourjpg-webThese two practical books give step-by-step instructions for Qigong forms designed to combat depression and stress. No previous experience of Qigong is necessary. Frances Gaik is a clinical professional counsellor and provides a treatment plan with helpful advice from her years of practicing Qigong and meditation in therapeutic settings. Gordan Faulkner is Prinicpal Instructor at the Chanquanshu School of Daoist Arts. His anti-stress exercises are designed specifically to fit around a busy lifestyle and have been extensively trialled with Maggie’s Cancer Care Centres.

                                                                                                                                                     

The Mystery of Pain by Douglas Nelson

Nelson_Mystery-of-Pain_978-1-84819-152-5_colourjpg-webThis is a personal tutorial for understanding the psychology of pain. Douglas Nelson takes an in-depth and surprisingly entertaining look at how we experience pain and what medical professionals and therapists can do to improve treatment. Through asking strange questions like ‘Why does scratching an itch feel so good?’ and ‘Why is pain from a mosquito bite preferable to the same pain from an unidentified source?’ Nelson shows how us that the more we understand pain, the more power we have to control it.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                     

Fragrance and Wellbeing by Jennifer Peace Rhind

Rhind_Fragrance-and-W_978-1-84819-090-0_colourjpg-webFragrance has a powerful impact on our mental and emotional states, with scent playing a key role in forming memories and sense of place. This book explores the impact of fragrance on the psyche from biological, anthropological, perfumery and aromatherapy viewpoints. The author explores how scent has been used throughout history and across cultures, discusses the language of fragrance and presents detailed profiles of a broad range of fragrance types including their traditional and contemporary uses, and mood-enhancing properties.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                   

Principles of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) by Lawrence Pagett and Paul Millward, and Principles of NLP by Joseph O’Connor and Ian McDermott

Pagett-Millward_Principles-of-E_978-1-84819-190-7_colourjpg-webO_Connor-McDerm_Principles-of-N_978-1-84819-161-7_colourjpg-webThese are quick and easy introductory guides to teaching yourself the therapeutic psychological techniques of EFT and NLP. EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) work by removing blockages in your body’s energy using tapping  in order to feel more positive, energetic, and less stressed. EFT can relieve a wide range of conditions including anxiety, anger, depression, insomnia and migraines. NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) is a system of modelling your speech and behaviour to achieve your goals and connect better with those around you. It’s applications include building confidence, beating depression, and developing your career. NLP is a great starting point for anyone looking to improve their life.

                                                                                                                                                   

Mental Health Awareness Week runs from May 12-18, for more information see www.mentalhealth.org.uk. For more books on a range of mental health issues visit Singing Dragon’s parent company, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, www.jkp.com.

Don’t expect it to go right – by Chris Mitchell

I have been asked frequently of late about whether or not mindfulness ‘works’. Personally, I think it neither does nor doesn’t work as it is something that one can neither succeed nor fail at. I appreciate that just because it can have an effect on the quality of life for some individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome, including my own, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is for all. It can be easy to become put off from mindfulness practice when one feels that their mind wanders so much that they can’t calm it, and become more frustrated through just ‘trying’. But just simple noticing of the mind wandering is a good start. One of the most useful pieces of therapy I have had for coping with set-backs and disappointments is not to expect anything to go right, including mindfulness practice.

Too often when we set out to see or experience something that interests us or we are enthusiastic or passionate about or what has always been on our bucket list of things we would like to do, we almost expect to have a great time that we forget that there is the possibility that something might go wrong, and when it does, feelings can include not just disappointment, but also frustration, which in turns results in low mood.

northern light-smallAn interesting way to potentially experience disappointment as well as learn how to cope with it in a positive way is through chasing the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. Some have been fortunate to have seen the Northern Lights in the UK 2014 courtesy of a recent powerful solar storm that resulted in a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) strong enough for its impact on hitting Earth’s atmosphere to be visible much further south than normal. But as Northern Lights enthusiasts know well, more than just strong solar storm activity needs to occur to have a chance of seeing the lights, even when one is around Earth’s magnetic pole above the Arctic Circle in Tromso, Norway, a clear sky is needed and for the phenomena to be visible, solar storm activity has to be at the right level and has to happen at a certain time.

It is human nature to want an explanation as to why phenomena like the Northern Lights happen and as a result many myths have been associated with them over thousands of years, as they could appear very brightly without warning. The Sami, native to northern Scandinavia, believed that they came about when an arctic fox ran over the mountains leaving behind a mist while the Greenland Inuit believed them to be the souls of babies yet to be born.  Though solar storm activity is generally constant, even with present technology, it is still very difficult for astronomers to predict when CMEs will hit Earth’s atmosphere. With the added need of a clear sky, those on Northern Lights chases can experience either wonders or disappointment.

However, being aware that the phenomenon isn’t guaranteed to happen is a good way to prepare for potential disappointment. From images of northern Scandinavia, it can be assumed warm fire-smallthat the Northern Lights appear just about every night, but when visiting, one finds that reality and perception are two very different things, including the often harsh reality of adverse weather conditions for those who live there. After two nights looking for any signs of looking for any signs of aurora with no luck and poor conditions for aurora viewing including low cloud cover, when the adverse weather conditions of heavy snow, wind and cloud cover continued into my third night, when instead of thinking about whether or not I would see any aurora activity I had become more accustomed to the thrill of being in the Artic in heavy snow with access to the warmth of an open fire in a Sami tent, there came a break in the clouds and I managed to see a green tinge of aurora activity!

The aurora display that I managed to see was visible for only a few minutes until it was obscured by cloud again. But when it did appear, it provided me with a little reminder of how to approach mindfulness practice, which similarly with aurora chasing, not to have any expectations as to what its effects may be.  Aspects of Asperger’s Syndrome, including high anxiety, low self-esteem and depression can’t be ‘eliminated’ through mindfulness practice, but in time, the effects of mindfulness practice can help one deal with such issues, including coping with disappointments in a positive way.

During CME’s, which cause the phenomenon, the Sun loses some of its mass, which weakens its gravity, contributing to earth’s orbital period, and the year, gradually becoming longer, a reminder that the concept of clock and calendar time is neither fixed nor permanent, as are any effects of mindfulness practice. Understandably, if a person with Asperger’s Syndrome who experiences high levels of anxiety relies on the relative predictability of structured clock and calendar time, natural time as it unfolds can be a difficult concept to grasp. However, by initially just noticing reliance on structured time can help to see how it can become a controlling factor in one’s life when, including noticing certain habits that arouse from such routines. Any effects of mindfulness are more likely to arise in the much more abstract nature; natural time that we can’t often see rather than in the clock and calendar time we see frequently and come to rely on.

Just as it helps when going aurora chasing not to expect to see any aurora activity, similarly when seeking mindfulness practice, it helps not to have any initial expectations of any effects.

Chris Mitchell is the author of Asperger’s Syndrome and Mindfulness (2012) and Mindful Living with Asperger’s Syndrome (December 2013) both published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Holding Calm Within, Concentrating Attention Beyond: Asperger’s Syndrome and Lake Meditation – by Chris Mitchell

Chris-Mitchell-2People with Asperger’s syndrome are known for a liking for solitude, particularly if they feel that they can’t be understood or don’t feel accepted within the social world. Though a person with Asperger’s Syndrome may be quite content in such a setting, they may not initially be aware that it can lead to excessive isolation. However, where such a preference can help develop social skills is through adapting qualities from spending time in solitude into social environments. To enable this, one must see solitude as a place to step back from the flow rather than as a place to hide. Since being  diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, this is an aspect of my condition that I feel I have gradually begun to notice more. I am more aware of how solitude affects me and others around me, including how my Asperger-related tendencies have an effect on others as well as how the moods of others affect me. When stepping back from the flow in a natural setting, particularly in a forest or by a lake and  applying my focus to the present, I am able to see how various inter-connected factors cause different effects to happen, as well as being able to observe and be present with the qualities of adaptability and receptiveness that nature has.

When practicing lake meditation, a meditation technique that can be practiced by an actual lake or just with the lake image in mind.  One begins to notice the receptiveness of the surface of the water contained in the lake, and the lake’s responses to constantly changing factors including responding to wind with ripples, which produce a sparkling effect when reflecting sunlight or moonlight. On a clear day, from a good vantage point, the depths of a lake can sometimes be seen. Lake Wastwater in Cumbria is one such lake where the depths of the lake, including what the lake is comprised of, can be seen from the ascent of nearby Scafell Pike. With continued and focused attention, one also notices that the surface of the lake changes colour in accordance with the weather, dark when cloudy and inviting in reflections under clear skies.

It is important to expand your attention during your practice to consider how factors that affect the appearance of the lake also affect how we feel within the body.  How we feel within affects how we present on the outside. For instance we may shiver when temperature drops or a when a draft blows in or ‘jerk’ when caught in a gust of wind. But rather than allowing such occurrences to become an interruption or a distraction to the extent that they lead us to giving up the practice, it helps us to notice and acknowledge any impulses we have to react. In turn, this helps one notice how when we act on our impulses we find ourselves on ‘automatic pilot’, almost being controlled by them.

When we transfer the qualities experienced during lake meditation to social situations, we notice how factors affect our moods and feelings. Like the surface of a lake changes colour in response to light, facial expressions in people often change in shape and form. People’s complexions can change in between moods  and a change in mood and feelings brings about different actions and responses. As a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, I sometimes feel like I am an ‘actor,’ in that I learn non-verbal social skills from observation. But to enable appropriate acknowledgement and response in a social situation, it helps to be able to maintain the calm beneath one’s external presentation, relating to the calm water beneath the surface.

Taking a step back from the social world into solitude to practice lake meditation can help a person develop observational skills that are helpful in developing non-verbal social skills. To be able to be present with such observations, as well as to be able to apply attention when listening and retain the calm beneath the surface are qualities that when applied to social situations can enable social connection, acceptance and inclusion.

Chris Mitchell is the author of Asperger’s Syndrome and Mindfulness (2012) and Mindful Living with Asperger’s Syndrome (December 2013) both published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

How to open your heart – by Rosemary Patten

Patten, RosemaryWe are full of complexities, a myriad of different functions that completes us make us part of the human race.  Our bodies crave order and the status quo, yet our heart wishes to be free, joyful and loved. We are looking for that special something that unites us with nature and the heavens. Yet we become distracted with challenges of life, we twist and turn looking for that spark of our existence.

The Universal life force energy that unites us is drawn into us by seven main energy centres or chakras.  Our heart is the link between earths’ energy and the heavens. When our heart is in balance we can love, be joyful, and can cry when life around us is tough.  We can live each moment with pleasure, accept ourselves in the now and forgive our weaknesses.

People who have in the past inflicted pain and have indeed broken our hearts should be forgiven.  We know in our heart that it is their failure to understand, they have taught us strong powerful lessons that we need to know.  When we understand the people who have hurt us, we free our hearts from the pain and our heart has been healed. When we stay in conflict, we only continue to be unhappy.  This negative energy emulates out to people, the world, the planet and the Universe.  Everyone around us receives our signals as hostility toward them, people move away from us and our isolation grows as we push the hurt deep down inside us.

How can we forgive such terrible hurt?  We are who we are and we cannot change, our scars are there, tight in our heart, locked deep. They are almost physical in the pain they inflict, too frightening to bring to the surface and assess.  But if we do not allow ourselves to cry, to feel that which we shut away, and then let go with understanding and compassion, we will not be that person we want to be. The pain will not go away unless we release it and forgive those who have rendered us immobile.

We must forgive ourselves for hanging onto a hurt that takes our breath away- the breath of life.  Start to see with different eyes, a world that is sacred and all things beautiful.  We must learn to emulate our love outwards and love will come to us. There is no effort involved as our thoughts are more and more positive.  We experience love in all its different forms; love of nature, art, music, mankind and the love of that special person.  Love our amazing planet and love the Universe that created us and loves us back.

How can we regain this balance between heaven and earth?  When you are aware of your thoughts, it releases negativity. Thinking on the following affirmations confirms your intention. We will attract positive thoughts towards us, a higher vibration that raises us up towards the heavens. The heart is the link between our higher self and earth, beginning our journey greater understanding.

How to open your heart

Affirmations – choose two of the following or use your own personal affirmations:

I release all feelings of guilt and start my journey to peace and love.

I accept myself and know that my heart is mending.

I can cry and can release those feelings of hurt.

I am surrounded by the beauty of nature and this makes my heart sing with joy.

I forgive those who have broken my heart they also are on a journey.

I embrace change and look forward to exciting new challenges.

I only surround myself with people who bring joy into my life.

Try to be aware of your thoughts, allow negative thoughts to come to the surface.  Never suppress them, as they are low vibration and will be heavy.  Picture in your mind’s eye a red balloon and place the negative thoughts into the balloon, allowing them to drift of up into the sky.

Whenever possible, change any thought to a more positive vibration by putting a spin on it. For example ‘I am dreading work today’ could change to ‘I am dreading work today so I will meet my friend at lunchtime, always enjoy her company. I am lucky to have such a good friend’.  Now there is a reason not to dislike work, as you are now more optimistic!

Once you start bringing your thoughts to a conscious level you will feel you have more energy. The journey of forgiveness towards those who have hurt you in the past has begun. By healing yourself you will truly open your heart and bring true love and joy into your life.  That joy and love can then spread through to all who come into contact with you.

 

Rosemary Patten is a master Reiki practitioner, aromatherapist, reflexologist, and author of Japanese Holistic Face Massage. She lives in Kent, UK.

Raise awareness of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome this May

 

EDS awarenessMay is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) Awareness Month, raising awareness of this multi-systemic and complex connective tissue disorder, and supporting those who live with this invisible condition.

As awareness and understanding of EDS are central to early diagnosis and management of symptoms, take the time to learn about the condition, and simple steps that can help the many people who live with it.

Learn more about EDS (especially type III – Hypermobility Syndrome) with these interviews and resources, and more:

Books:

Interviews:

Organisations:

See also:

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