relaxation

Palms Up

One of my favorite humans on this planet is a lawyer, speaker, author, and humanitarian named Bob Goff. To me, he is Jesus with skin on, a guy who really lives the philosophy of loving others, and doesn’t just talk about it. He wrote a book that has greatly influenced my life, Love Does. In this book he describes a practice he does with his clients. When they are meeting, he asks them to sit with their hands on their knees, their palms open and facing up. His theory is that it’s impossible to be defensive with your palms up. You have nothing to hide with palms up. You are strong enough to be vulnerable. A similar principle is present in the theory behind lamaze classes. The theory is if your hands are clenched, you’re not relaxed. If you are truly relaxed and better able to deal with the pain, your hands will also be relaxed and not clenched. Along that line, symbolically, if our palms are open, we are better able to release anger and stress.

So I’ve tried this a few times. I’ve tried this at work during difficult conversations. I’ve tried this on the phone with an aggravating sales person. And I’ve tried it during my journaling, when I’m getting worked up about something that I’m writing. There really is a release in the simple act of opening your palms, and physically releasing whatever it is you may be holding in a tight grasp.

Try it yourself. You can even try it right now, while you’re reading this. Sit quietly and place your hands on top of your legs, palms up. Be still for a bit. Do you notice anything? 

Learning to live with palms up, to relax instead of being stressed, and to breathe and get centered rather than living in internal chaos does not come easy for me. Like any new skill, it takes education or knowledge, practice, and repetition. I’m often surprised at couples or parents who have decided “I’m not going to make the same mistakes in my next marriage” or say “I’m not going to do things the same way my parents did” but fail to take the necessary steps to actively learn a new way of doing things. Just because we know what we don’t want to do, does not mean that we magically acquire the skills to do things differently. Unless we’ve had a role model to show you a different way of doing things, we only have what we know. We only have the pictures and taped messages of our past, and it takes effort to replace these with new, healthy behaviors.

For me, as of today, these steps include:
•counseling – to have someone guide me as I look at why I do the things I do, and to also help me make the healthy transition from survivor to WARRIOR
•learning relaxation techniques like breathing and ‘palms up’ to help quell the inner noise so I am better able to be still before God
•learning to be healthy physically as well as spiritually, which for today means cutting out sugar, caffeine, and beer (but that’s a story for another day).

There are many other steps I need to take in my search for balance, and we’ll look at those in future posts. That’s enough vulnerability for today.

But for now – one day at a time, one step at a time, one breath at a time, with palms up.

Me and Bob Goff at the Storyline Conference 2/14

Kristin and Bob Goff at the Storyline Conference 2/14

 

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The Day I Forgot To Breathe

photo credit: WikiMedia Commons by Toni Frissell

photo credit: WikiMedia Commons by Toni Frissel

This morning I forgot to breathe. I slept through my alarm, and rushed to a meeting. I spent the afternoon working on numerous projects, and when a colleague called to give me a report to follow-up on tomorrow, I noticed a tension headache beginning. That’s when I realized I had forgotten to breathe. Bear with me while I explain.

While looking for balance in life, it can be helpful to identify the biggest obstacle – or what’s in your face the most?  As I identified my longing for a quiet, peaceful place to sort this all out, I jumped right ahead to list all the distractions that I’m chasing. However, I skipped over one of the most important parts of this journey so far –

Finding a place of peace amidst the chaos.

In my intense, passionate, and distractable psyche and spirit, how do I learn to be still? How do I learn to sit with feelings that are uncomfortable? How does the person who keeps the television 0n for background noise at all times learn to quiet my racing thoughts? How do I stop that physical reaction to conflict, or shame, or disappointment?

When I returned to counseling a few months ago, my counselor suggested a book called the The Healing Power of the Breath: Simple Techniques to Reduce Stress and Anxiety, Enhance Concentration, and Balance Your Emotions. I wasn’t opposed to the practice of deep breathing, but to be honest, sitting still for any length of time has never been my strong point. I get bored, my mind wanders. I start making a grocery list. But I have found that as I get older, and particularly as I am attempting to sift through some of the chaos in my heart and mind, I am developing a love and even a longing for times of quiet. Still, empty quiet. 

This may sound wonderful and lovely and normal to you, but for me – this is nowhere near my normal. But things are changing. I know that part of it is my decreased ability to multi-task as I age. I also believe that the chaos has sometimes served as a coping mechanism – if I am too busy, too distracted, too chaotic, if there is always noise, I don’t have to deal with whatever may be sitting there in the dark shadows of the quiet. In my search for balance, I am realizing the value of sitting in the quiet, and bringing to light what is in the dark shadows.

One tool I’m finding helpful to fight the distractions is mindful, or coherent breathing. I’m just learning, and I’m not consistent, but I have to admit, when I start my day with deep breathing, there seems to be a difference. I haven’t read much of the book – I mean, it’s a book about breathing – but the book came with a CD which I keep in my car and practice on the way to work. It’s not ideal, because you’re supposed to be seated comfortably with your eyes closed. I have tried the deep breathing exercises in the mornings (when I remember) and it may be a placebo effect, but I am beginning to notice a difference. Or should I say, I noticed a difference today when I did NOT start my day with deep breathing. I find myself using it while I drive and when I am beginning to feel stress or anxiety. When I practice deep breathing, it is easier to not react to stressful situations, and it seems easier to remain calm and not have such  an intense emotional reaction. It can also be really helpful to relax and clear your mind when you’re trying to go to sleep.

A few years ago NPR did a story on the biological changes that occur when we practice deep breathing, the body’s ‘built-in stress reliever’:

“Research has shown that breathing exercises like these can have immediate effects by altering the pH of the blood, or changing blood pressure. But more importantly, they can be used as a method to train the body’s reaction to stressful situations and dampen the production of harmful stress hormones. . . Rapid breathing is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system. It’s part of the “fight or flight” response — the part activated by stress. In contrast, slow, deep breathing actually stimulates the opposing parasympathetic reaction — the one that calms us down.” (Just Breathe: Body Has A Built-In Stress Reliever by Gretchen Cuda)

I’m just starting with 3-5 minutes, in the morning, and sometimes at night. I try to set my phone alarm, and pratice coherent breathing before i ever get out of bed. I even found an app to keep track of the time for me.

Why don’t you try it with me for a few weeks, and then report back?

 

deep-breath

This begins at your natural breath rate and very gradually slows your breathing down.

Beginning Steps for Coherent Breathing

• Breathe through your nose with your eyes closed.

• Taking your time, count slowly and silently in your mind: As you breathe in, . . . two . . . as you breathe out . . . two . . . repeat this for two breaths.

• Taking your time, count slowly: As you breathe in . . . two . . .three . . . as you breathe out, . . . two . . . three . . . repeat this for three breaths.

• Taking your time, count slowly: As you breathe in . . . two . . .three . . . four . . . as you breathe out . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . repeat this for four breaths.

• Taking your time, count a little more slowly: As you breathe in . . .two . . . three . . . four . . . as you breathe out . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . repeat this for four breaths.

Once you learn to breathe at five breaths per minute, you will not need to use these learning steps. You will be able to just start and within a few breaths you will be in the correct rhythm.