If you’re anything like me, you have worries. You worry about your health, your finances, about the way the world is and, of course, about how much you worry! I've managed to find a way to reduce my worries, using a tool we call: The STOP technique. This blog will tell you all about it and help you to try and relax your anxieties.
THE LOGIC BEHIND THE STOP TECHNIQUE
This version is an excerpt of the full STOP technique that we teach in our 6 week course. Both Mark and I have adapted it over the years, experimenting with the best wording. Regardless of the prompts, there are four main stages or 'principles' that we are trying to cultivate in our relationship with life:
HOW WE FORMED COPING STRATEGIES
We all have a worldview of belief systems from our past experiences, culture and education. Deep within these are lots of unconscious expectations about how ‘I’ should be and how ‘others’ should be. These result in patterns of behaviour that are designed to help us fit in and survive. We call these ‘coping strategies’. Some coping strategies work well in the modern world. Others create larger problems than the ones they were originally intended to solve. This is because they are leftover from a different phase in life, from a different context, where survival meant using tactics of aggression, avoidance, anesthesia or appeasing others (Fight, Flight, Freeze, Appease). I call these ‘problematic coping strategies’.
MY PROBLEMATIC COPING STRATEGIES
In my case I experienced plenty of bullying at school, from both boys and girls, which led me to believe:
THE SUBTLE USE OF THE TOOL
What you don’t see in my written text is the mindfulness work behind the tool. At each stage I’m stopping to check out how it feels in my body. I’m finding the root of any resistance. If something doesn’t seem right I ask, why? This will get me to the ‘root belief’ and reveal unknown shoulds, which I can work on instead. We teach a more in-depth version of this tool in our 6 week course at Bristol City Yoga, and I teach my own course online, (starting 14 May) which you can read about here. I also made a video of the STOP technique here.
IT TAKES TIME AND PRACTICE
When I first used this tool it was clunky and slow and I got too obsessed with the words, but after some practice I internalised the desire for learning and for inner peace, and prioritized those traits over the need to be right, or impressive, or afraid. I now live life as an adventure, full of curiosity, and with a very simple awareness:
It is not situations that cause us problems, it is our internalised beliefs. If we explore our beliefs we come to realise that all problems are opportunities for growth... If we are willing to dig into them.
If you’d like to let go of anxiety and find more peace, focus and clarity then consider coming to one of my *pay what you feel* online classes. I have a different theme each day. Each Tuesday I use the STOP technique in a group, to help people process stuck thoughts and instead: TAKE THE TIME TO FREE THE MIND. Want to come? Click here to register for free.
YOU STILL HERE?
Ok, so if you want to read more...
WORRYING IS USEFUL
The truth is worries normal and natural. Worries demonstrate care and they draw your attention to potential dangers. Worries, like all emotions, can be positive and useful, if we let ourselves ‘feel them’ and choose to interpret them positively. They can then give us the awareness and energy we need to make effective and peaceful action.
However, we often interpret emotions, like worries, very negatively. We deeply believe the thought: ‘something should be different!’ We miss the truth, that the very thought itself creates an internal conflict, expends our energy and misses the learning potential. Thinking negatively about emotions themselves often ends up creating the very thing we were worrying about. I battled with this for many years. I WAS A CHRONIC WORRIER
MY EVOLVING STORY WITH THE STOP TECHNIQUE
My turning point happened when I first started a meditation practice. My verst meditation showed me strong emotions hiding in my body, and belief systems in my mind that I wasn’t even aware of. I met Mark Dunn, of Positive Meditation, who crafted a tool that he called ‘The STOP technique’. Working alongside body awareness this tool used the strong emotions and situations in life to highlight what I was believing, and then showed me how to change it. I studied with Positive Meditation for two years, working through my inner pain, and then worked with Mark for the last five years, honing the STOP technique for myself and my clients.
FINDING THE NEGATIVE FEEDBACK LOOPS
My work was mainly about spending time listening to the body and catching the ‘shoulds’ of the mind. These hidden expectations led to the ‘gold’ of learning about myself and changing my responses. So I began to ‘celebrate the catches’. For example, I often catch the belief “I shouldn’t worry so much!” When I get curious I see that this ‘should’ creates a reaction of ‘more anxiety’ and a mild addiction to social media, which I use to distract myself from the anxious feelings in my body. The belief that I shouldn’t worry makes everything much worse!
But how the hell do we change an ingrained belief?
I STOPPED FIGHTING
Rather than trying to avoid or get rid of my anxiety, I learned to acknowledge and accept it as a feeling, whilst questioning the background thinking. This helps me to discover what my mind and body want and need. Over time old beliefs and reactions become weaker and new responses become stronger. This is called neuroplasticity. We can train the mind to change the brain and nervous system! Thing is, it’s a lifelong pursuit, because like any part of the body, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Old programming can and will resurface. So now I use the STOP technique and meditation daily, to stop any internal fighting with my mind.
HOW IT CHANGED MY LIFE
I’ve found that I catch things much earlier now. I often perceive a challenging moment in life as a kind of playful test, and difficult people as ‘my mindfulness gurus’ (Thanks to Jamie Catto for that insight!). Inspector Clueso (pictured below) hired 'Kato' to jump out at him. This was to train his reflexes to be sharp and ready, 'at all times'. When I practice the STOP technique I am able to be more ready to notice and respond to my own mind and emotions with this mentality. I learn something each time. I grow my calmness and clarity of mind. I use the STOP technique verbally, in quick questions to myself, and in journalling. I can now reduce my worry much easier.
PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE IN RELATIONSHIPS STARTS WITH COERCION
The term ‘Abuse’ is marked by the 'prolonged and repeated' use of fear, control and coercion to get an 'egoic' need met. An egoic need, it is something ‘we think we need’ and often results in a strategy of defending an ideology or belief; putting up walls of judgement and defence, instead of connecting to ourselves or others with empathy. For instance, the simple belief that ‘I am right’ might close the mind to hearing other perspectives and opinions. Or a belief that ‘I am trapped’ for example, might lead one to trap others as a form of feeling less trapped themselves - particularly in their relationships. Addressing and changing these types of beliefs and behaviours is part of why we engage in relationships and. Growth within healthy relating, happens through skillful communication. If behaviours of coercion or control persist, without consent one could label it as abuse.
MINDFUL AWARENESS - WE DO IT TO OURSELVES
Some internal beliefs get stuck through being unaware of them. Mindfulness invites us to recognise the mind/body and gradually increase our awareness of the Sensations, Emotions, Impulses and Thoughts (SITE). This can help us to recognise our internal beliefs and respond to them - to reshape them without violence. With this level of awareness any internal stress reaction or external coercive behaviour can be more easily recognised early. By positive I mean one that generates an outcome that is beneficial to all, like a kind and honest conversation.
COERCION VS CONSENT + COMMUNICATIION
The opposite of coercion is respectful consent - the voluntary giving of one's time, energy and attention. I often say that my acronym for L.O.V.E is to ‘Let One Voluntarily Express’. It starts within each of us, to notice and allow own internal mind stuff to be there, without knee-jerk reaction of suppression or projection. We can then more effectively investigate it, understand it and either 'let it be' or change it gradually, without violence.
This makes it easier to allow other people to express themselves and creates space for both people to 'be' (themselves) and see any coercive behaviour early. Skillful communication comes with honest 'yes's' & ‘no's’ (boundaries) A 'no ' needn't mean complete rejection and can still make it likely for a win-win situation to occur, because it is honest. Real intimacy happens through sensitive and courageous honesty; allowing relationships to become even more beautiful because of the flaws and vulnerability involved in letting go of control. It can see very scary to do these things, at first.
"One had to cram all this stuff into one's mind for the examinations, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect on me that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year."
WE ARE ALL ABUSED AND ABUSERS
All of us have been too under-resourced (of time/energy/awareness) at times, to deal with the internal stress responses and be aware of deeper feelings. There might be a feeling of insecurity. In this state we sometimes forget that we don’t need external validation to be 'ok' and we might begin to use coercion to get it, even on those close to us. On the receiving end, if we then do things that the body doesn’t want it can cause pain and damages our own self-trust, as well as the relationship trust. Sometimes one might then blame the other as ‘abusive’ or label ourselves as ‘a victim of abuse’. It is important that we ARE allowed to do that, so that we can seek help and/or retreat and protect ourselves in the first instance and gain perspective. The danger comes in dwelling in a place of stress reactions, including blame and shame, without noticing our belief patterns and the truth of them, thereby developing internal patterns of abuse, such as these:
1. Initially one shuts down emotions and disconnects from bodily senses. Numbing the pain ‘seems’ better - but of course pain is your body’s way of telling you ‘no’. We let fear and expectations rule our responses more often than listening to the body and responding with respect.
2. With repetition gradual conditioning occurs, rewiring the brain for external validation. We do this to ourselves and each other by repeatedly overriding the body without taking time to understand the true source, One might get a misunderstanding that the source of pain is external, and seek to rescue ourselves by trying to appease an abuser or get approval externally.
3. One develops craving and addiction (or co-dependence) to the role or the ways of relating/thinking, or even to a abusive person. When this role/relationship is threatened life can suddenly feel terrifying. Feelings of fear, anxiety, abandonment and hopelessness can occur - this pain and confusion is because one’s safety has become associated with the role and relationship.
4. One becomes a passive ‘doormat’ and unconsciously feeds the abusive pattern. Eventually the addiction becomes normal and familiar. We seek out relationships that supply similar behaviour. The neurological pathway of that pattern is well used, and becomes like a slide back to the negative behaviour. Humans like ease, familiarity and certainty, because it takes less energy and helps them feel safe.
5. Fatigue sets in, through holding unconscious resentment and fear/distrust. Without awareness of the true source of pain hopeless beliefs emerge and these sap vital energy. The fear underneath is held as tension in the body and anger in the mind and will eventually emerge, often violently, if not dealt with as early as possible. This is the body’s way of defending itself, but it’s a risky strategy for physical and mental health for everyone involved. Long term tension is destructive.
6. Eventually one loses / forgets one's deeper identity as a beautiful and inherently valuable being. When we are conditioned to identify as hopeless we may think we ‘deserve’ the abuse / pain. This is deep shame; humiliation or distress at one's own condition or existence. Toxic beliefs of ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m a liability’ can become normal. This can lead to depression, chronic anxiety, panic attacks and even homicide or suicide.
IT TAKES COURAGE TO LET GO OF BLAME AND CHANGE SOMETHING
I’ve seen people emerge from the depths of this shame-blame cycle to recover and become resilient, happy individuals with healthy relationships. This article is not concerned with ‘who’ is at fault, but is interested in helping each of us recognise our potential to help ourselves and one another. We can trace the origins of abuse back thousands of years and never get to the source at fault, because the source is always ourselves. Alan Watt’s calls this “The Birth of Responsibility” - seeing that hurt people, without mindfulness and love, always hurt other people, and we can only change that by working on ourselves first. I’ve laid out some ways to do that here:
1. Gradually raise awareness of emotions through regular check-ins and diary entries.
Regular Guided Meditation is a great way of tuning in, especially if you are out of practice. It also may help you realise your current needs (like rest) and then you can plan to meet them. Once you are aware of needs and emotions, expressing them is the next step - releasing tension is important. Find healthy catharsis for the emotions. Eg, for anger try a ‘hand scream’ or a ‘fuck-this’ meditation. To promote calm try conscious breathing and create some space for perspective in your day, even if that is only 1 minute, to FLIT between tasks - take a mindful moment to breathe and listen in. Writing things down has helped me and many others understand themselves. It may be painful and messy at first, as we become more aware of the pain. With time and acceptance we can change.
2. Reaffirm to yourself that you’re enough and you’re OK. Silence can sometimes make the negative voices and beliefs even louder and stronger, at first. Find ways to give yourself affirmation - ways where you really feel it, without the need of another. Imaginative Meditations like Metta Bhavana (Loving Kindness) is one method. The STOP technique can help you find a balanced truth and the NOD technique may help you reconnect to an image of yourself/your future that feels positive and helpful.
3. Educate yourself of the drama triangle roles you play. Simply ask yourself 'what role am I playing right now?' and then continue to play it, whilst observing with humour and interest. Awareness and allowing is enough to relax one’s hold of the masks one wears and projects onto others. Gradually this will help us let go of the game of ‘name, blame & shame’ and the pattern of ‘hurt people hurting people’. It will create beauty and stop us feeding the drama of victim-critic-rescuer roles. I learned this from Fooling - the recognition that we are all fools and that’s OK. Let’s make the pretence conscious and be interested in our mind’s coping mechanisms.
4. Notice addictions/patterns, and yield to them mindfully, whilst processing them. Instead of shutting them down (which is very tiring, because it takes willpower), experiment with them - go into them consciously to really feel what it is like to experience them. Take your time. Afterwards feel the aftermath, ask yourself if this pattern of behaviour and underlying beliefs serve you. Use the NOW process to then resolve a new way forward. Feel this fully too. By recognising the triggers of the TRAP we can then use other tools like ‘Mental Contrasting’ and ‘RE-ANCHORing’ to overcome addictions mentally, with loving repetition.
5. Enforce one's boundaries. Say no often! A vital skill that can only be learned by experience. Saying no will allow you to get space and perspective, to distinguish your feelings from your judgements and projections. If this feels terrifying try practicing outside of your normal relationships first, as detailed in rejectiontherapy.com. Ask for things from friends or strangers. See what it's like to receive honest answers, including rejections. Getting and giving a ‘no’ is often not as bad as one thinks it is - try it! This will help you give healthy boundaries within your relationships. You can always change your mind. And finally, perhaps most importantly...
6. Share yourself - ask for help or talk to a trusted friend. If you feel deeply lost in shame then using these tools with another person’s help greatly increase their effectiveness. When we are lost in confusion it often helps to have an outside perspective. When our pain is witnessed, with openness and kindness, it often helps us to accept ourselves and let go of it. Seeking professional help is always an act of self-love. At the very least seeking a trusted friend to confide in, because pain shared is pain halved and happiness shared is happiness squared! Abuse resource - if you need urgent help.
The psycology of abuse from Psychology-Today states:
“Here's the thing. It all comes back to us, to our responsibility and accountability. But, in this case, it comes back to responsibility to ourselves and accountability to ourselves. Instead of just riding the wave, if we choose to mindfully examine the nature of our relationships and make a determination of what is acceptable and not acceptable to us, of what feeds us, rather than bleeds us, then we are living, and loving, authentically and with mindful awareness.”
I hope you enjoy these tools and if you are noticing that you are falling into the trap of coercion or abuse come and see me for 1-1 guidance and get yourself out of the negative pattern, with love. Neil@positively-mindful.com
"Truth resides in every human heart,
I work with many varied clients, some who experience abuse. My personal and professional relationships have been varied and often involved low level coercion. This has all helped me grow in wisdom. Some of this growth has been painful. I have sometimes misunderstood the pain in relationships and become confused and stressed, reacting with blame and I've learned from those experiences, to communicate better and become more aware of what's happening in me.
I propose that our primary relationship and source of wisdom is actually within ourselves and we become most reactive at our own stress-induced thoughts. The base reactions are known as ‘Fight, Flight, Freeze’ and Appease. One tactic of these stress-reactive states is ‘coercion’ (from Latin coercere ‘restrain’, from co- ‘together’ + arcere ‘restrain’).
A stressed mind that fails to meet a need through coercion may escalate to more violent forms of defence and control (like physical abuse) which is not discussed here. This article seeks to raise awareness, so that early stages of internal and external coercion can be resolved and transformed away from stress, blame and shame and into awareness, wisdom and intimacy.
If you have been to my classes or read some of my other blogs you’ll know that mindfulness is not just about attitude of the mind, but it is all informed by the attitude of the body, and especially the most fundamental aspects of physiology; like the breath.
This blog is written to give you a breakdown of the techniques, but also the background philosophy - why would you bother to undertake a breathing practice? After all, it’s a natural bodily function that doesn’t require any conscious effort. I’ve notice that when people in my classes initially regulate the breath, interrupting the automatic function, they say it seems clunky or feels awkward - like we’d be better off leaving it alone. Yet, with mindful noticing they also sense changes in the body - calming and releasing of tension. I have found profound learning from playing with the breath - So here are my experiences and research.
BREATHING FROM THE PAST
Unconscious / automatic breathing is largely doing a good job for you (keeping you alive) and you can still potentially improve it, because it is inevitably conditioned by some experiences in your life that have formed mental associations. For example, you may notice your body / mind going into panic over a misspoken word with a colleague, which may unconsciously remind you of being rejected by an old friend - a painful memory buried in the subconscious.
These memories are not conscious, so you only know something is out-of-sync with reality by noticing the physical reaction first. We tend to be unaware of the changes in our breathing that dramatically add to our emotional state. These daily occurrences of disproportionate reactions are fuelled by negative mental associations, and if we do not become aware of them and start working with then we add to them, gradually reinforcing the embodied reactions.
If you continue to act unaware of this, the body will eventually create pain or attain disease, which forces you to pay attention and change something. Continued ‘stressful breathing’ (like short sharp breaths, or shallow breaths) releases adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream unnecessarily, which stresses the body.
Much like looking at your teeth and then brushing appropriately reduces the stress of tooth decay we can reduce stress by watching the breath, becoming more conscious of what situations or thoughts are associated with ‘stressful breathing’. This will tell you a lot about you mind and areas of ‘fear’ or avoidance. We can then alter the way we breathe.
If we remain unconscious of the breath patterns we often act on impulse. Here our reaction to rising emotional panic might be to ‘act out’ (including blaming something / someone else) or ‘retreat’ (which may include shutting down and therefore retreating inwardly). This is known as the fight or flight function of the instinctive and emotional brain (the amygdala). Indulging this can lead us into a T.R.A.P. of our own ignorance, where the following happens (and may have been happening for some time):
LEARN FROM EXCITEMENT, INCLUDING SPORTS
We can learn and develop the ability to reprogram positive patterns in the mind and body. A good way to do this is to bring presence to any situation where breath changes due to excitement. As an example I’ll share where I first learned about conscious breathing - rock climbing!
I learned this the hard way - trial and error in extreme situations. I would get to a dangerous moment on the rock, where, if overly focused on the dangers, I began to panic, then I’d be in serious trouble! (I had a couple of nasty falls).
So I learned in these moments that the best initial response to the rising panic was to purposefully breath longer and smoother breaths. I would then direct my focus to my feet and hands, and my immediate surroundings, checking things were okay. Then I could more accurately assess the risks, from a place of relative calm objectivity, rather than emotional panic. At times I added more confidence boosting strategies like a mantra (a mind affirmation repeated over and over), or by verbalising ‘It’s ok, I’m ok” and telling myself what I was going to do next. I would literally talk myself through it!
Early warning signs that panic is rising can be found in the sensations of tension and the change of breath. By noticing breath when it becomes short & sharp or shallow, and respond with a little playfulness and presence we can program a reaction to any stress trigger. This is what I learned - to program in the following response to stress; I slow down for a moment and become B.O.L.D:
"The trick is to keep breathing" - Janice Galloway
PERSEVERE WITH SOME OBJECTIVE PERSPECTIVE
This can apply to normal life as much as it can extreme situations; imagine you are at work and you are trying to make headway with a difficult project, but you feel frustrated. Take a moment and notice your bodily sensations and your breath. Then, play with it; control your breath. This is essentially about changing something simple, partly to break the existing pattern. The simplest thing to change is focus and breath. However, changing your physical location and posture can also aid this transition to calm, so if it helps, get up from the desk and do this in a different place. This will give you better perspective to objectively assess and then refocus. At first it might seem to make things worse. This is for two main reasons:
TAKE IT EASY
The trick is to bring in an element of playfulness and ease - don’t try too hard or you will simply add to the panic. Gradually the automatic response to the trigger of shallow / holding breath patterns becomes more healthy Shortly after you can create a habit of opening up or dropping negative thinking with mini moments of objectivity - meditation, for example. This calms the physiology of the body, lowers adrenaline and cortisol level and oxygenates the blood, ready for refocusing on calm action. This will also help the body and mind stay healthy and balanced.
LOOKING AHEAD: IT’S NOT WHAT YOU DO, BUT HOW AND WHY YOU DO IT.
The psychological aspect to breathing well can be as important and the physiological (depending on your background beliefs and attitude). You could create a nocebo effect as a result of cynicism - that is, you may counteract any positive effect the breathing may give you by giving too much weighting to your opposing concepts and beliefs, rather than being willing to try the experience. In this instance conscious breathing will probably result in wasted energy and perhaps even more negative thinking and emotion. So don’t do it if your mind is in resistance - don’t force it.
PLACEBO OF BELIEF
Conversely a placebo effect may give you some short-term benefits, but if you assign too much weighting to this one thing then you are in danger of becoming fixated on one tool as a ‘magic bullet’. Placebo is a powerful product of mind beliefs, yet without presence (noticing & objectively) of the mind and body you could become ignorant of the changing reality of your life situation and hide other useful truths from yourself. A good example is rock climbing again - if one becomes overly confident through the use of breath, visualisation and boldness, one may go too far and take on a challenge that exceeds ones ability, and then have a nasty accident.
MY EXPERIENCE - FIND THE BALANCE
For me an approach of openness, awareness and playfulness yields good results. I like to imagine the breath healing me (which it does, scientifically proven) and I imagine warm feelings as I breath - visualising the oxygen enlivening my cells. These are things that may not be real, but which are helpful. I may imagine light pouring in, or a mantra as I breath like “It’s ok, I’m ok.”
I can then more clearly imagine what I want - visualising it, whilst being sensitive to my body (which will tell me if what I am imagining is unrealistic, by manifesting tension). This is an ‘intuitive’ way and for some people the ‘logical’ way makes more sense. A highly scientific and sceptical mind may require more quantitative research before integrating a new practice - which may (or may not) remove mental barriers to trying this willingly. This is neither good nor bad and I always encourage thinking for oneself and I try to present these blogs not as facts, but as experiences and opinions.
“Remember to breathe. It is after all, the secret of life.”
It’s hard to disentangle this subtle level of placebo that the positive thinking adds, so I don’t worry too much and I enjoy the benefits, aware that my psychology is partly responsible, and occasionally questioning myself or being open to other perspectives. I have researched and found the potential benefits that regular practice of relaxed yet conscious, slow breathing can have:
All of these are potential, because there are a lot of factors at play, not least of which include diet, mental attitude, hydration levels, nuanced context of external stressors. For example, when at the office and noticing the breath during a break t may also be useful to notice if you are thirsty, hungry, sleepy or need the loo. These are important physiological needs that may also be affecting the breath and negative thinking. Nonetheless, as a simple and effective tool I have found breathwork to be invaluable.
IS IT EMBARRASSING?
It can be, depending on the environment you are in. It may be inappropriate to meditate at your desk and start breathing deeply. So take yourself elsewhere to do this. There is a theory by Dan Harris that the in the next decade meditation (which often involves breathing in stillness with your eyes closed, noticing the breath and the body) will be as accepted as jogging is (in comparison to how it was viewed 30 years ago - as a fad). So for now, find a place to do this where you feel safe.
CAN TECHNOLOGY HELP?
Yes - one of the great modern devices, the smartphone, now has access to thousands of free apps, that really help. I have done a quick review of the top 10 free iPhone apps:
5. Nirvana Fitness: breathing fitness to music. The idea is nice, breathing in different timings to music, which can work, but I found it a little clunky and has a lack of options on the free mode.
4. 3 Minute Mediation: A mix of breathing styles, but only 1 or 2 offered on the free model and the timer is, in my opinion, unattractive and difficult to follow.
3. Pranayama Free: An interesting concept with a 3d model of the body and lungs to show you exactly what should be going on inside as you breathe. I quite liked it, but again had very limited options.
2. Deep Breathing Exercises: This had a funny star shaped timer, which was ok, with nice back music and lots of options. It had more ads than other apps, which bugged me.
1. Breathe Deep: My favourite of the apps with lots of options and personalisation. Simple graphics and quick to load.
I use this last app occasionally when I’m working, in my breaks, because it takes away some of the energy input required to do the breathing work and trains in accurate regulation. The downsides are that sometimes I’m not really paying attention to my body as I breathe and I think that presence is helpful to optimize the process and get the most benefit.
WHAT ARE THE COMMON BREATHING METHODS?
Below I have outlined some popular techniques, all of which I’ve tried, some of which for more than a few months. Feel free to skim them at first to see the breadth of possibility. Some of these have been pioneered by the practice of yoga
Prāṇāyāma is a Sanskrit word alternatively translated as "extension of the prāṇa (breath or life force)" or "breath control." The word is composed from two Sanskrit words: prana meaning life force (noted particularly as the breath), and either yama (to restrain or control the prana, implying a set of breathing techniques where the breath is intentionally altered in order to produce specific results). This is well used and researched and utilises the concept of Chakras (energy point or nodes in the body, of which there are though to be seven major chakras, which are arranged vertically along the axial channel, from the base of the pelvis to the top of the head). These are not conclusively proven in science. There are several techniques but these are the most common:
Ujjayi breathing "the ocean breath". Unlike some other forms of pranayama, the ujjayi breath is typically done in association with asana practice (varied postures designed to stretch and exercise the whole body). Ujjayi is a diaphragmatic breath, which first fills the lower belly (activating the first and second chakras), rises to the lower rib cage (the third and fourth chakras), and finally moves into the upper chest and throat. The technique is very similar to the three-part Tu-Na breathing found in Taoist Qigong practice:
Kapal Bhati Pranayama or Skull Shining Breathing Technique is about calming and bringing your focus into the present moment. It goes like this:
Alternate Nostril Breathing Technique (Nadi Shodhan Pranayama) which is supposed to bring balance through alternating sides and it works as follows:
SOME WESTERN STYLES I'VE TRIED
Whilst yoga uses the belief structures or concepts of Chakras other techniques have been pioneered in the west using scientific research. Remember we are unique and what works for one person may not be universal. Self- experimentation is key, in my opinion.
Wim Hoff method. The Dutch man Wim Hof is a charismatic teacher of mind-body techniques and a record breaker for endurance, commonly nicknamed "The Iceman" for his ability to withstand extreme cold, which he attributes to exposure to cold, meditation and breathing techniques (similar to the Tibetan technique Tummo). He worked closely with scientists around the world to prove that his techniques work. A 2014 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) claims that by consciously hyperventilating, Wim can increase his heart rate, adrenaline levels and blood alkalinity. The report concludes “These results could have important implications for the treatment of conditions associated with excessive or persistent inflammation, such as autoimmune diseases.” The breathing element is as follows:
Box/Square Breathing (or other timings): origin unknown, but used by well researched practitioners like Dave Asprey
Buteyko Breathing is something quite different, that I experimented with this year. It was developed in the 80’s in Russia by Dr Konstantin Buteyko, as a cure for asthma, based on the premise that one of the causes of asthma is over-breathing (hyperventilation), particularly through the mouth, which, according to the theory, causes too much O2 and then inflamed airways as the body’s defence. So therefore the system involves shallow breathing through the nose in order to promote increased clean air intake and increased carbon dioxide in the lungs, and therefore improving the balance of O2 in the blood.
This process can be quite stressful and it is not recommended to try this alone and without expert help, for fear of passing out. The independent did an interesting article on it, which shows successful cases, but also discusses the the reason it isn’t popular is partly due to some scientists dispute the physiological claims that the Buteyko practitioners teach. www.buteyko.co.uk/
Anger is like a storm rising up from the bottom of your consciousness. When you feel it coming, turn your focus to your breath. - Thich Nhat Hanh
Whatever you decide to do, take it easy. I would suggest giving a few slow, deep breaths a go next time you notice you are stressed or stuck. Changing one thing can alleviate stress just long enough for your mind to think clearly again.
My practice has evolved by trying all of these and now do a mixture of the Wim Hoff breath to energise me, the box breathing to calm me into focus and just simple deep, conscious breaths whenever I notice I’m stagnant or tense. Being B.O.L.D (Breathing, Objectivity, Looking up ahead, Doing it) has reprogrammed my mind to more easily come back to the present moment and then into a clearer focus. Give it a go, with care, playfulness and presence.
An inspiration - a long, deep breath of the pure air of thought - could alone give health to the heart. - Richard Jefferies
As the Part 1 said - Fear manifests as resistance and resistance is the body’s natural response to pain. Apathy, distraction, procrastination and confusion are all tools of resistance, designed to stop us from facing the truth and doing our work. Somewhere in our subconscious we have associated work with ‘pain’, so now we procrastinate, to avoid the pain. But why have we made this association in the first place and how can we overcome it? We will address these questions, later, but let’s start by addressing the issue at hand - overcoming procrastination, here and now.
If we are procrastinating then we are leaking energy and time. It’s like we are a ship in a storm - with lot’s of holes because some of the boards on the hull don’t align - we are leaking and becoming heavy. If we’ve been really disorganised or a disaster has struck, then the ship might even be on fire. This is like when you have a series of ‘really urgent’ things getting in the way of your longer-term fulling work. Those things you will just need to deal with - as my friend Tom Robinson used to say:: “Run towards the fire” which I later found out came from the last page of the book: Salty Dog, by Gloria Rand.
But then there are times where the problems are not apparent. Your ship is ok, but you are confused, procrastinating and adrift - slowly letting on water. This is almost more dangerous than a fire, because it will sneak up on you. Quick fixes are needed to address this leaky ship - patches. Tape them to your desk or just use them now. It helps to have a to-do list and know roughly what one wants to do. (if you don’t, check my links at the bottom.) Here are my top 3:
1. Set a timer and turn off distractions. At the start of your work time set a timer, get focused on the task at hand - even if that task is writing your to-do list. Set 25 minutes. Turn off your devices and distractions for that time and just do one thing. Then, when 25 minutes is done, progress to no.2.
2. Next, get up and FLIT to something else for 5 minutes, regularly. Flitting is what hummingbirds do - (and I like to imagine a repair team flitting between repairs on the ship) skillfully and gracefully moving and changing location, easily and calmly, looking up every now and then to survey the situation. Be like this. Get off your bum, come away from the desk and practice this simple thing. BE STRICT - don’t cheat yourself by turning the timer off. Just get up now and try this.
FLIT stands for:
This process involves first moving into your senses - to allow a reset between jobs. Moving your attention consciously from analysing to being, which resets the mind and places a punctuation between work and rest. Make sure you do this, exactly when the timer goes off, don’t put it off, even for a minute - get into the habit of standing up and doing a FLIT. It is often better to put something down whilst in the middle of it - so you will have motivation to come back and so that when you come back you can connect again easily. You may find you have to overlap your work, so you revisit the start of a chapter or take a minute to survey where you were - this is also very healthy, as it promotes wider awareness.
This whole practice lubricates your ability to slip between work/rest states and stay in flow. Longer, smoother breaths, witha clear focus has been proven to calm the nervous system and longer outbreaths reduce CO2, further calming the body. Do this regularly and your stress levels stay balanced and you think clearer. This 45 minute video explains.
3. Take a single, tiny step. If you are finding this hard or overwhelming th that is because you are facing a seemingly ‘big’ task (like fixing the whole sinking ship) it can be daunting and starting is always the hardest part, so when you come back to work just commit to doing 2 minutes of something - a ‘tiny’ task! Do it solidly for two minutes (write one page, email one email, call one client). At the end of that congratulate yourself and tick the item. Celebrate and then do it again… this might get the ball rolling. This is a trick of the mind to overcome the starting energy. If the mind associates only 2 minutes of pain it will be more able to handle it than 2 hours of writing your thesis and trying to complete it this week! Just commit to 2 minutes - then celebrate! You will be making progress, just keep going.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” - Lao Tzu
Turning off distractions in work mode is a big help; turn off all phone/email/facebook notifications for each 25 minutes segment. This is focused work time. Remove all distractions possible for these short chunks. If you are worried that people expect an immediate response, you can add a signature line to your email, informing you only check emails 3 times a day. This focuses you and seals some of the energy leaks. You can even measure your time in these 25 minute chunks and this is known as the pomodoro technique. Doing less and achieving more is all part of mindfulness.
YOU ARE OK
Before we continue, a caveat. All of this is, of course, all a metaphor. I want you to understand that you are perfect as you are - you are growing and learning, but you are already a success, because you made it here to enjoy the human experience. Nonetheless, we all have a play to take part in, if we wish to, a journey that we can choose to undergo. Our minds like to think in analogy, metaphor and story, so I have presented these ideas to help you (and myself) out to get a handle on your life and start to consciously steer the ship, if you want to. These tools might give you that ability faster. Caveat over.
If we have a struggling ship and you have been in rough seas for a while then you need to get that ship into a safe harbour so that we can look at it without the bombarding waves of your everyday demands. Then we can address the long-term questions like ‘where we are going?’ and ‘why?’ (bringing associations and values to our conscious awareness), train your crew (embedding healthy associations via routines), build up resources and tools (preparing for the long voyage) and connect with others, who might be able to help next time (building a support network). This may take time, so allowing for this introspection an hour in your day, or a few hours each week may be the starting point. If you can dedicate several hours over a weekend - get out of the house and treat yourself to this, it could be really beneficial. I’ll cover this more in Part 3: Preparing to voyage.
PROCRASTINATION: HIDING FROM PAIN
Before that it is important to think about the sources of our procrastination - which are mainly: our self- beliefs, worldview and associations & values. All your current habits and addictions are not the source of your procrastination - they are the symptom. In a very psychoanalytic way, let me explain;
Growing up we learn to notice the sources of pain by looking for consistency in the things we were doing or thinking at that specific moment that we felt it (or leading up to it). We make associations from those observations. However, the severity of the pain combined with less awareness and coping resources (like that of a child) can lead us to draw conclusions faster, in a more confused way.
If we can’t recognize the source of the pain then we might panic and make a rash association, which, until disproven, will create fearful internal reactions of tension around the object of our association. A good example of this is is a ‘phobia’, which is ‘a disproportionate internal fear response to something’, like if a child feels in danger when experiencing a confined space. This could potentially lead to claustrophobia in a later stage of life - and avoid small spaces. It is even more complex with the nuances of fear that lead us to procrastinate from our cherished work.
In one of m.y classes I run an exercise in mindfulness I call 'GRAPE-FULNESS' and 'ORANG-INS' of things:
Appreciation, through seeing, tasting and appreciating the origins and effort that is embodied in something as simple as a grape or an orange. We take time to appreciate where something came from, how many hours and work and people went into delivering it to my mouth. Then we savour the thing - taste it, explore its textures and notice how we feel before-during-and after the experience. This can create natural, un-forced gratitude - a lovely state of mind to be in.
I love how when we delve into the origins of things we discover new things we never saw before. The same is true for words. I love the etymology of language. Our language of words is our main way to communicate and there are two quotes that remind me why it’s so important to appreciater and be conscious of the words I use, and how I think about them
These point towards how valuable it is to examine our language and our self-talk. The voices in your head and the words you say to others.
This morning I had another revelation - and I’m excited. I teach mindfulness and dance. There are four types of connection in dance, as well as dance as a metaphor for life:
I first was turned onto these ideas by Justin Riley - a dance teacher from the USA who teaches that dance is a form of connection - which is what we are all seeking - but if done consciously, in this order, can ensure our dances feel great!
When I look at some of these words I love the hidden meanings I glean and how they relate to meditation, to the simple things we need and do and then the whole of life. Here I've explored the latin root of some of the key elements of good connections:
As Brene Brown says: Your power is actually in your vulnerability. Let yourself be seen as the imperfect being you are and you can discover a new level of appreciation, even for things that seem unpleasant.
Whatever you choose to Connect (bind with) to; whatever words you use - if you do so with conscience, contact, confidence, contribution and adventure you will probably find the dance of life flows well and is fun. You always have a choice to speak the words you 'want' and to notice how you are interpreting something you see and hear - and decide if you want to focus on and maintain that thought, or if you want to explore other ideas, perhaps ones that bring less stress, more gratitude, appreciation and connection to the things you love.
Therefore mindfulness of language is not only important as I mentioned in this blog, but also fun and can help reveal different ways of looking at anything!
Mindful communication is something I'm passionate about. It's much more than language - but that's a part of it. Interested. Come along to the workshop!
Life is a play, a game, of sorts. This is the first Blog of a series, looking at GAMIFYING life. In this blog we look at a concept called the Drama Triangle - a game which we all play - and I see this as kind of like 'Level 1' of the game of life. Here I'll explain that and also my ideas on changing the game to Level 2, with Playfulness and Presence!
This short video explains it well, and looks at the level 2 game, Presence:
The drama triangle is a social model of human interaction – the triangle maps a type of destructive interaction that can occur between people in conflict. It was first created by Stephen Karpman, M.D., a student studying under Eric Berne, M.D., the father of transactional analysis. It was later revised with the addition of ‘The Winner's Triangle’ by Acey Choy in 1990 and then by David Emerald (2009).in his book ‘The Power of TED (The Empowerment Dynamic).
Basically it’s the idea that when we are acting out in life - when we are in drama - we all choose roles, and we switch roles rapidly. These 'scripts' are encouraged in modern society, which is based on 'justice'. These are the roles of:
We can imagine it a bit like in a courtroom - where the drama is played out and everyone has the intention of claiming they are the hardest done (right) by and that others are wrong. Hence it is a victim-blame-game. Ultimately we all claim to be the victim.
So I’ve been using Choy and Emerald's models, but with my own twist, to help people raise awareness of these roles and then figure out ways to move away from the Drama triangle, without completely disengaging with people or problems. I call it the 'Presence Triangle' - a game of connection! That name was inspired by the fantastic video at the top. My diagram below shows how it works:
Moving to Level 2
In the same way that you can’t fight emotions with thinking, you can’t fight drama with diagnosis, defence, or distrust - it all starts with stopping the reactivity and doing one (or more) of these things:
These shift you away from the negative thoughts and into the body. Into Presence. We can then move towards these roles, in which we all take personal responsibility for the choice:
But all of that will be for nothing if the intention behind it is resentment, trying to change, educate, fix or disprove - then there is no natural compassion and we will slip back into Drama. My belief about the intentions required to ‘really’ connect fit nicely into the acronym: LET GO & B, which is also what we are doing! We are letting go of the results and allowing people to be, exactly as they are, including ourself. We can practice these intentions to cultivate natural connection. I know this ‘allowing’ seems counter-productive at first, but as Nathaniel Branden said:
“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”
Are you able to LET GO & BE?
You may notice I also put 'parent 1 and 2'. That's because this is a lot like being in a parental role, where one is often rescuing and the other putting the child down. When we think of healthy ways to raise children and make human connections we want to have the intentions of:
Love – love, in my opinion is both a feeling and a verb. Love is ‘acceptance’ and a ‘willingness to experience’ - to act in accordance with internal motivation, but not based in fear. Can you love your enemies and yourself?
Empathy – The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy comes from understanding that we are all interconnected beings and that what I do to you I eventually do to myself. Therefore empathy is feeling for and with someone else.
Trust – Confidence that people are whole, growing beings, not needing fixing - a belief that we are all unique creators.This breeds confidence and empowerment. I also trust that everything is working out as it should. It's okay, I'm okay, you're okay.
Gratitude – Instead of wanting and needing that which I don't have, I remain thankful for everything I have been given and received. This feels amazing and enables me to act positively; understanding that honesty in relationships is a gift that helps you to grow.
Ownership – I understand that only I am responsible for my thoughts, feelings and actions. I understand this may have an influence on the world and so with great power comes great responsibility. I own my own power and use it wisely not seeking to blame others, be a victim, or rescue others unnecessarily.
Boundaries – Your ‘yes’ and ‘no’s. What you decide you want or don’t want for yourself, or to be a part of. Without boundaries we burn out in empathy or violate one another. I understand my physical boundaries and set my own emotional boundaries. I take time to feel into what is a yes and a no for me and communicate them clearly and honestly.
Expression - The last part is to express yourself, honestly and sensitively, without attachment to the outcome, but with care and consideration of feelings and needs - both yours and the other persons, yet also expressing honestly. This is not possible without practice and first taking the time to 'feel into it'.
That’s a lot of information, which is why it is much easier, after finishing this Blog (well done for getting this far) to just remember to LET GO & B - if you find yourself sucked into the Drama triangle, try having a jiggle, taking a breath, gently asking a question and then listening! I think you’ll find a lot more connection and end up playing a different game - where everyone wins! Because there is another option, beyond right and wrong. It's called being (human).
Neil Morbey is a meditation teacher, group facilitator and inspiration guide for Positively-Mindful.com