Karuna Counseling’s Newsletter Articles

August 25, 2011

Addiction and the Craving for Wholeness

Filed under: 2011 Articles,Addiction & Recovery,Melissa's Articles — karunacounseling @ 6:08 pm
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By Melissa Kulick, Ph.D., RYT

And You? When will you begin that long journey into Yourself?
– Rumi

Happiness is your nature. It is not wrong to desire it.
What is wrong is seeking it outside when it is inside.
– Sri Ramana Maharshi

When children grow up with experiences of trauma or deprivation, it is not uncommon for them to feel an inner emptiness. Confronted with what may be overwhelming negative emotions (sadness, hurt, fear, unworthiness,) and never having had the opportunity to learn healthy “self-soothing,” these individuals adapt by finding or developing more unhealthy coping strategies, including various form of addiction. They learn to search, reach and cling outside themselves to anything that seems to offer some immediate release from their pain.

The word “addiction” comes from the Latin addictus (pp of addictio), meaning an awarding, giving over, devoting or surrendering to. In addiction, we give over to the object of our addiction our power and ability to know we are okay, enough, whole. We actually, unknowingly, surrender our identity.

That being said, it can be argued that we are all addicted in some way. We all have things we can, consciously or not, cling to in order to tell ourselves we are okay in a given moment. We can be addicted to substances (drugs, alcohol, food,) activities (work, shopping, gambling, sex, exercise,) relationships and persons, receiving praise or attention, controlling others, and even to beliefs about ourselves and other internal thought processes (denial, interpreting situations as saying/confirming something negative/shameful about us – as unworthy or stupid.) Yes, we can be addicted to negative thoughts and feelings about ourselves, even addicted to an identity as an addict – as a way of experiencing a known, predictable, solid identity and not having  to confront the fear, confusion, groundlessness of not knowing, and the responsibility that comes with accepting our choicefulness.

All addictions arise from the same place within us and all share a common effect. All addictions are (conscious or unconscious) reactive attempts to temporarily reduce, eliminate, or avoid facing and moving through our pain. The result, however, is that they all block in us our ability to open to receiving that which we are, at heart, truly seeking: knowing that we are enough and loved  for who we are in any given moment; that we are already whole just as we are.

Well-known spiritual teacher Ram Dass describes the experience addictive behaviors afford as a “short rush” allowing us a “taste of heaven” and “home” but not allowing us to remain because we didn’t get there in a right, real way. There is a yearning to come home, but we continually find ourselves thrown out by the negative self-thoughts and feelings we were trying to avoid in the first place, now seemingly reinforced by our ‘bad’ behavior. In our attempt to fill the whole, we feel it only growing.  [For Ram Dass’ full commentary on Attachment and Addiction, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3ixRqOauq4.]

Healing is Making Whole

Eminent Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, in a letter to Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson, described the alcoholic’s craving for alcohol as “the equivalent . . . of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness.” Continued attempts to satisfy the thirst through addictive behaviors, however, render it ultimately unquenchable. As a common AA saying goes, “For an alcoholic, one drink is too many and a thousand is never enough.” In other writings, Jung stated that it is our darkness, our “shadow” aspects that we are compelled to disown, that have the capacity to be our greatest teachers and tools for growth. He wrote that our felt brokenness results from an alienation from who we are. We heal by embracing, not dividing. Healing is making whole.

If the addict’s perceived self is an empty or fragmented self, how does one create a sense of self based in wholeness and fullness?

My teacher, Swami Jaya Devi Bhagavati, was once asked by a student struggling to understand and reconcile the co-existence of God and war, whether God was absent in war. Swami Jaya Devi’s response was that God was present, but that the awareness of God was absent. Another twelve-step saying is that an addict is “not a bad person getting good, but a sick person getting well.” Addicts are not bad or evil people absent good, they have simply lost or lack awareness of their true goodness, leading them to wage the internal war of addiction.

Learning to practice simple awareness – without reactivity – is therefore a vitally important tool in addressing addiction. We need to learn to sit and be and allow a feeling or sensation without jumping to interpretation that something is (or I am) wrong, bad and/or needs to be changed. Awareness, itself, allows for transformation. We give power to a feeling by resisting it. We have already transformed our relationship to it and its power over us by not reacting to it. It no longer needs to be removed in order for us to be whole and okay.

Most people are familiar with the expression, “Whatever we resist, persists.” It is also and perhaps even more accurate to say that it is not so much that we resist things because they are painful, but that they are painful because we resist them. We can transform our experience of, and relationship to, pain. Simple breath meditation – sitting with our eyes closed and following our breath in and out, bringing our attention back to our breath when we become aware our mind has wandered (because it will) – is one way to begin training ourselves in awareness and focus without judgment. Anything that happens inside of us is okay – anything we think and everything we feel. Nothing we think or feel is evidence of our not being enough. And nothing we have done diminishes our wholeness.

The teachings and practices of yoga can be powerful resources on our journey to wholeness and ‘enoughness.’ Yoga literally means “union” and “wholeness of being.” It is designed to “yoke” the practitioner to her or his deepest Self. Yoga is an “eight-limbed path” toward our highest consciousness, toward true contentment and happiness. One of these limbs, pratyahara, most directly addresses addiction. Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses, a turning inward. When we practice pratyahara we stop chasing our external sense experiences and focus our attention inside ourselves, directing our energy internally. We practice coming back to center, to our heart. We come home in a way that allows us to stay.

The physical practices of yoga, the asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathwork), are also valuable in cultivating our experience of wholeness. To “practice yoga while you’re practicing yoga” can be a great challenge. It means to be fully present in our body and breath, neither judging nor forcing ourselves beyond what is true and right for our body in that moment. We are given the opportunity to practice awareness and acceptance and ‘enoughness’ on the mat, then bring this experience off the mat and apply it in our everyday lives.

There are also specific practices in yoga that can help move us toward wholeness. Our bodies are energy bodies, with thousands of energy paths running through it. There are seven main energy centers in our physical body, beginning at the base of our spine and moving up to the crown of our head. The second of these energy centers, or chakras, is located low in our abdomen. Correlated with the sex/reproductive organs in our body, the second chakra is also associated with creativity and the element of water. When in balance, we experience ourselves ‘in the flow.’ When out of balance, we have a tendency toward avoiding, controlling or ignoring our feelings. At its extreme, this imbalance leads to self-denial, self-rejection and self-deprivation. When we are blocked in this way, when this flow of receptivity is dammed, we are unable to connect with that which would truly satisfy us. Our ability to enjoy any activity is in direct proportion to how present and open we are to it in the moment.

The second chakra is considered the seat of duality (separation), unworthiness and of addiction. Its name, Svadisthana, means “sweetness” or “one’s own place or base.” Addicts’ external searching is a longing for the elusive sweetness of feeling/ knowing they are finally ‘home sweet home.’ Yoga practices that balance second chakra energy (e.g., Seated Spinal Flex) help bring us home.

“I Am Enough” Meditation
Find a comfortable seated position, lengthen your spine and gently close your eyes. Begin taking full, satisfying breaths, focusing your attention on the sensations of your inhalation and exhalation. After several breaths, bring your focus to the second chakra, low in the abdomen just a few inches above your pubic bone. Imagine you could feel the energy of the breath coming in and out of your second chakra. Allow yourself to feel the flow of that energy. Begin a silent mantra of “I am, therefore I am enough” on each inhale, and “I am, therefore I am enough” on each exhale. Continue this breath for 3-11 minutes. When you feel ready to complete the meditation, bring your attention to the center of the chest, called our spiritual heart. Breathe in and out of your spiritual heart three times repeating, “I am, therefore I am enough.” Know that you are enough, you are home and you can stay. When you are ready, slowly begin to open your eyes.


Addiction – the experience of craving in this way and looking for the ‘quick fix’ in whatever form it takes – is a signal that we are out of balance. One of the ways to approach addiction, therefore, is to seek the experience of balance, rather than reactively seeking the quick (and actually unbalancing) fix. An important element in addressing any addiction, not just food addictions, is to balance our blood sugar. When our blood sugar is out of balance, it typically triggers the feeling of craving and a state of reactivity; the quick fix becomes very hard, if not impossible, to resist. Our ability to be choiceful and response-able is greatly compromised. The best way to balance our blood sugar is to eat three full, satisfying meals at least 3-4 hours apart, with no between-meal snacking. If you feel a strong need for sweet, sugary treat, the best time to have it is as a lunchtime dessert, when it is least likely to have as strong an impact on your blood sugar. Snacking prevents our blood sugar from stabilizing by keeping it in constant movement.

Know that it is absolutely normal to grieve the loss of your addiction; it is like losing your best and most trusted friend. Know, too, that every addict struggles with being present in their bodies, in their lives and in the world. Recovery is a process of developing awareness and acceptance of all that you are, without judgment and reactivity. With this awareness, you begin to confront the truths your addictive behaviors were ‘protecting’ you from, and in so doing you reveal to yourself the truth that you already are, and have always been, whole and enough.

 

“The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.”
~ Carl Jung

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
~ Rumi

”Real healing can begin only when we finally learn to be present in the places where we have been absent.”
~John Welwood

 

 

August 12, 2010

Procrastination

Filed under: 2007 and earlier,Anxiety,Melissa's Articles — karunacounseling @ 1:03 am
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by Melissa Kulick, Ph.D.

If the topic of this article has caught your attention, I’d go ahead and read it now if I were you.  For most people who identify themselves as procrastinators, deciding to come back to it later  is a likely set-up for never getting around to it.

Despite the fact that procrastination is so widely practiced, I find it can also be incredibly misunderstood. Procrastination is often written off as laziness, but it is not that simple. True procrastination involves avoidance and is the result of any of a number of underlying factors or causes, which will be discussed below. If you are looking only for a quick how not to guide for overcoming procrastination, a number of practical tips can be found at the end of the article. I do not advise, however, skipping to this section. Experience has shown that if you don’t identify and address the underlying causes of your procrastination, you will probably procrastinate in applying these strategies, as well.

What Procrastination is Not

Before jumping into a detailed discussion of what procrastination is, it will be helpful to distinguish it from what it is not. There are legitimate reasons for putting an action or activity off and it becomes our responsibility to be honest with ourselves as we assess our motivations. Among the reasons we might delay action for reasons other than procrastination are:

1) When you lack the skill or knowledge to complete a task. You could, however, then procrastinate seeking the required knowledge or informing an appropriate other person of your situation.

2) When you have a legitimate illness or physical problem.

3) Ignorance – When you genuinely lack the awareness of the task or awareness that you have permission to work on it.

4) Situations where there are problems matching personal priorities with those of others. Again, this is where communication is required, and you could procrastinate in delaying this action.

5) Taking of a legitimate break following an appropriate period of activity.

6) Delays based on self-knowledge of your most and least productive work times during your day.

What Procrastination Is

When we talk about procrastination, we are referring to unhealthy putting off or avoidance of tasks, especially those that would be positive or helpful for us to accomplish. To understand (and ultimately overcome) our procrastination, we need to begin to explore what may be the motivation(s) – both conscious and unconscious – behind our choice to procrastinate. (Yes, we are making a choice, whether we experience it as intentional and deliberate or not.)

Why We Procrastinate

The motivations involved are fears and/or negative self-statements related to our self-worth. These fears and self-statements mainly stem from a number of commonly held, though irrational, beliefs. Albert Ellis, a pioneer in the field of rational emotive psychotherapy, proposed a lengthy list of such irrational beliefs. Among those that may impact procrastination are:

1) That it is a dire necessity for us to be loved or approved by virtually everyone we know.

2) That we should be totally competent, adequate, and achieving in every respect if we are to be considered worthwhile.

3) That it is awful and catastrophic when things are not the way we’d like them to be.

4) That it is easier to avoid than to face certain difficulties and responsibilities.

5) That our past behavior determines our present behavior.

6) That there is one right and perfect answer to our problems or situations and that to not find this right answer is catastrophic.

These can be incredibly powerful, foundational, beliefs. If you found yourself nodding in agreement as you read any of these, keep them in mind as we go on to discuss the various fears that may underlie our procrastination

I referred earlier to procrastination as a choice. In many ways, when we choose to procrastinate, we are making a decision based on a cost-benefit analysis; we are determining that what we see as the potential cost of taking action outweighs the expected benefit.

Among the possible reasons for procrastination, fear is a strong motivator of action (or inaction), and can come in a number of forms. It is the combination of fear and issues related to self-worth that fuel most, if not all, of our procrastination.

1) Fear of Failure – Holding a belief that our performance determines our worth (especially if we doubt our ability) can create a resistance to risking taking action (and thereby risking our perceived worth.)

A variation of this fear is Perfectionism. In this case, the only perceived measure of success is perfection, and this can apply both to the finished product as well as to an expectation that the effort involved be smooth and even effortless. Anything less than flawless and/or easy is seen as failure – and you become a failure, particularly in your own eyes

2) Protecting an Image of Competence – There are two forms this can take:

Novice Phobia – The fear of putting yourself in a new or novel situation and in the position of being a learner, and therefore not perfect or immediately competent. If I can’t do it right or perfect the first time, I won’t even try it. The anticipated cost, again, is a loss of perceived (by self and/or others) worth.

Fantasy of Competence – Avoiding facing a challenge directly by failing to prepare adequately for it, putting out a full effort, or giving yourself an adequate amount of time to complete it. This strategy, called self-handicapping, allows us to continue believing that we would have done a fantastic job if only we’d tried harder or had more time.

3) Fear of Success – Fearing unwanted anticipated consequences of success: that significant others in your life will be envious or threatened and reject you; that you will continue to be expected, by yourself or others, to maintain or achieve success; or that you or others will want even more from you. The cost of action, of course, is the negative consequences for you.

Another way that the fear of success can lead to procrastination is as a direct expression of a lack of self-worth. We avoid taking action that would be helpful to us because we do not believe we deserve to have, be, or achieve whatever the action would allow us to. This is a form of self-sabotage.  We undermine ourselves. This is also expressed as not seeing ourselves as worth the effort that may be involved in certain activities, regardless of the size of the task (e.g., brushing our teeth.).

4) Rebellion – One other motivation for procrastination stems from a desire to resist authority. Procrastinating in this case allows you a sense of power and control. The perceived cost is that working means submitting to someone else and giving up power.

Overcoming Procrastination

To overcome procrastination you need to address the motivation for your procrastination and honestly confront the question of whether you have a genuine desire to change your patterns. You need to ask yourself if you are motivated by the Pleasure Priority and, if so, if that is how you want to live. If your real priority in life is to have a good time, and you’re genuinely okay with that, then you need to stop kidding yourself and give up unrealistic fantasies of achievement; that’s not what fuels you. If you’re starting from this place but are wanting to work toward more of a balance between having a good time and being successful, a place to start is to recognize the need to learn how to delay gratification and work toward a later payoff.

To allow yourself to let go of the fear of failure and the paralyzing effect of perfectionism, it is very important to make the distinction between what we do and who we are. Our actions do not determine our worth. It is also important to remind ourselves that >we can not control others perceptions, opinions, thoughts, feelings, or actions.

A novice phobia can be addressed by remembering that we are all novices at everything at some point. When we allow our actions to be controlled by this fear, we are trying to protect an unnecessary false pride. If we do away with this pretense, we won’t have to spend all that energy maintaining a front that only limits us in the long run, by depriving us of the chance to learn and grow.

If you find yourself protecting a fantasy of competence, put your abilities on the line – repeatedly. You can then assess your true capabilities. You may have to give up unrealistic expectations or fantasies, but these weren’;t going to be fulfilled, anyway, if you continued to avoid and procrastinate. This will allow you a realistic sense of your strengths and weaknesses (we all have them), which will then enable you to set realistic, accomplishable goals for yourself.

If you find yourself procrastinating as a way to express resistance or as an act of rebellion, know that this is an indirect, passive-aggressive, way of expressing or achieving control. Set a goal for yourself of learning to deal with interpersonal difficulties in a direct manner and of seeing where your choice lies in situations. You likely have valid experiences and emotions that deserve to be acknowledged and expressed.

If you realize you are battling a fear of success, know that you are fully entitled to success and fulfillment. It may be helpful to explore the messages you hold inside you that tell you otherwise, as they can be indicators of tender spots within you that could benefit from some compassionate attention. Also remember that you can’t control others thoughts, feelings, etc. If, upon honest examination, this fear appears to be reasonable in a particular situation, ask yourself what steps you might be able to take to address the issue directly and/or whether this is a symptom of unhealthiness in a relationship.

In the case of self-sabotage, at the risk of sounding trite, awareness really is the first step. Acknowledge that this is forming the motivation for your choices and actions, and work on believing that you <u>are</u> worth the effort and do deserve to have, succeed, achieve, take care of yourself, etc. Practice. Don;t let a novice phobia get in your way here, either. It will be natural for resistance to come up as you begin to try on this new way of relating to yourself. That;s okay. There;s an approach used in the 12-Step recovery programs that you can borrow, which is to fake it til you make it. I prefer a slightly different wording, however. Ask yourself what you would do if you actually believed you deserved success or happiness, and then let yourself do it.

Behavior can be a powerful tool in identity formation. Not only do our beliefs about who we are or are not impact our choices regarding the actions we will and will not take, but our actions can create a picture of ourselves that can aid us in our future efforts. This is one way in which acting as if can be very helpful. If you start, for example, doing the dishes after each meal or beginning to read an assignment the day it is given (regardless of any internal pull to put it off), and you see yourself doing this repeatedly, your internal image of yourself begins to shift from someone who lets dishes pile up in the sink or someone who leaves assignments until the last minute to someone who does their dishes right away; or someone who gets a jump on their assignments. These internal ideas of who we are, while they do not define us, can definitely affect the choices we make.

Low self-worth and procrastination form what can be a debilitating vicious cycle where we start out feeling bad about ourselves and so are unmotivated to engage in positive action on our own behalf and we procrastinate and this only reinforces and increases our negative thoughts and feelings about ourselves, leaving us even less likely to act productively the next time. Break this cycle any way you can.

Self-compassion is going to be an important element as you work to change the habit of procrastination. Remember that procrastination as a style of approaching life tasks is an ingrained pattern that took a long time to develop, has been practiced repeatedly, and has been reinforced by (often lots of) internal messages. You should realistically expect that it could take some time to throw off such a well-rehearsed way of being. Many people find it helpful to address some of the obstacles they face in overcoming procrastination, especially their negative or restrictive internal messages and fears, over time and with a trained therapist.

Some Practical Suggestions

Sometimes we procrastinate starting a task because we feel overwhelmed by the seeming enormity of what we must accomplish. When this happens, the most effective approach is to break down the task into more manageable pieces, and this can be done by either dividing the task into individual steps and taking each step one at a time, or by breaking down the time spent working into small segments, contracting with yourself to work for even just minutes at a time. You can then consider renewing the contract once you’ve done that much.

Other things you can do include: creating structure by establishing a set time for a routine – by doing this you are building a new habit; modifying your environment to make it more conducive for working, or moving yourself to more favorable location; go ahead and do it when you think of it; make the most of momentum when you have it – keep going, even if it involves switching tasks; set up reminders for yourself if necessary; create a contract for yourself that includes both a work plan and a reward for yourself.

The most important thing is to start; start taking more responsibility for yourself (and seeing yourself as response-able) and start being more compassionate with yourself. Be both honest and gentle with you; you are a work in progress. And you are worth the effort.

July 8, 2010

Practicing Yoga Off the Mat

by Dr. Melissa Kulick, Ph.D., RYT

While the physical practices of yoga have enjoyed increased popularity in the west over the past several decades, yoga is, in fact, an ancient philosophy and spiritual approach to being.  The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, which means “to yoke,” and is often translated as “union.”  Yoga is an interfaith practice, meaning it does not require the practitioner to hold any particular spiritual or religious belief — or any at all.  It simply encourages us to adopt a certain way of being with ourselves, both on and off the mat.

When we practice yoga on the mat we are looking for that place in each asana (pose) where we find our “edge.”  The edge is any physical, mental, or emotional experience that is challenging to us without being overwhelming; a place of effort and engagement but not strain.  It is the challenges we encounter that allow us to stretch and grow.

Finding our edge in a given moment or situation allows us to feel safe and remain open — to be present exactly where we are — as we encounter life’s challenges.  For someone faced with a huge task that leaves them feeling stuck in avoidance and procrastination, finding their edge may mean breaking the task down into small, manageable pieces, or allowing them to set time limits for themselves on each work session.  For someone confronting an addiction, it might be asking a trusted friend to accompany them to a first twelve-step meeting.  Staying mindful of our edge in a given moment is crucial in creating an optimal working environment in psychotherapy — where the safety exists that allows for deep transformational work to occur at pace where one stretches and grows without feeling overwhelmed.

On the mat, it is said that we are not ‘practicing yoga’ if we are attempting to force a pose – to push our body beyond our edge. If we are experiencing pain (as opposed to the sensations of a tight muscle experiencing a stretch, or feeling a pose in a joint) or if we are not able to maintain steady breath in our posture, then we are likely forcing our bodies beyond a state of wellness and balance.

Learning – encouraging and training ourselves – to recognize when in our lives we are attempting to force something to happen, is a valuable tool. A great deal of tension and unhappiness is caused when we try to control outcomes (by some form of ‘scheme’ or manipulation) or ignore obstacles and resistances that are telling us that the direction in which we are trying to move is not in our best or highest interest. Yoga teaches us to turn to and within ourselves, and become better attention-payers to the messages available to us – to our breath and body, and to the more obvious and subtler voices of our intuition.

Mindfulness is a central component in the practice of yoga, often referred to as developing the witness mind.  The witness mind simply observes the thoughts that fill and move through our head, as well as the sensations in, and movements of, our bodies.   As witness, we are taking note of — compassionately.  What we are not doing is judging or comparing, though we may well notice that the thoughts running through our mind in that moment are doing just that (e.g., “She’s so much more flexible than me.  I stink at this.”)  You might also notice that your thoughts have jumped right out of the current moment, for instance to what you are going to eat for dinner that night.  When our witness mind observes that we have engaged in judgment or left the present moment, it simply names the experience “judging” or “not present” and returns to focus on the pose and on the breath — with compassion and without judging where we’d just been.

The physical practice of yoga on the mat can literally be ‘practice’ for living that same way of relating to ourselves off the mat.  After experiencing our witness mind on the mat, we may find ourselves having difficulty completing a task at work and notice we have begun to berate ourselves inside our head. Once we have noticed and acknowledged the thought, we can simply take a breath and let it go, returning to the task at hand. Or we may be engaged in a conversation with a good friend who is telling us about some fabulous trip she has planned, and we hear some petty or jealous thought line begin.  Again, once we are aware of the thoughts, we can choose to simply acknowledge their presence and let them go, without further indulging them or putting ourselves down for having them.

When we practice yoga on the mat we experience poses, and our bodies in poses, differently from day to day.  I have heard it said that we bring a different body to the mat every day.  Yoga teaches us to be unattached to — and not defined by — the body we brought to the mat yesterday or might bring tomorrow. “Beginner’s mind” is a term often used to refer to this coming to the mat without any assumptions, needs or expectations of what we will encounter or experience there. We use our witness mind or our beginner’s mind in the course of our daily lives when we similarly notice the stream of thoughts running through our heads and the movements and sensations of the body, and choose not to identify with, buy into or react to them.  We are not our thoughts, any more than we are the bodies we bring to the yoga mat or elsewhere.

The Breath

One of the primary things that set yoga apart from other forms of physical exercise is its focus on breath awareness.  Movements are linked with inhalation and exhalation, and the release of exhalation is often used to help us more deeply open into a pose.

The breath is a most powerful tool for helping us stay in the present moment.  My guru (yoga is historically an oral tradition passed from guru to chela, or student to teacher) teaches that, “If you can control your breath, you can control your mind. If you can control your mind, you can control your life.” By practicing breath awareness both on and off the mat, we gain the ability to practice another yogic tool, hesitation.  It is hesitation that allows us the moment to choose non-reactivity, non-judgment and compassion.

When you bring awareness to the breath, it becomes prana. Prana is life force energy.  There are many practices in yoga, called pranayama, which means “control of the life force”, that allow us to effect the flow of pranic energy within us.

One great way we can take our yoga practice off the mat is by practicing pranayama, or breathwork, wherever we need it.  Here are some basic techniques you can try when needed:

Ida Breath and Pingala Breath

Our nasal flow can have a lot to do with our energy.  There are three main energy channels that run along our spine.  The sushumna is the central channel and correlates with our spine.  The ida is the path of the left nostril.  Its energy is associated with the moon, and is gentle, cooling, and inward.  The pingala is the energy of the right nostril.  It is associated with the sun, and is more, fiery, outward, and strong.  Our typical breath is such that one nostril is dominant for a little less than two hours at a time, and then it is switched to the other side.

Ida Breath

Because the ida channel is gentle, cool and soothing, this breath can be used in situations where we are feeling anxious, overheated, or needing to calm or steady the mind.  It is also helpful for insomnia.

Technique:

Sit in a comfortable position with the spine upright and long.  Using the right hand, keeping the palm flat and fingers together, raise it up and use the thumb to block the right nostril.  Take long, deep breaths through the left nostril only.  You may want to begin with practicing this for 3 minutes and build up to 11 minutes.  If you start to feel your energy getting out of balance, you can restore balance with a right nostril breath.

Pingala Breath

Because the pingala channel is powerful, hot and dynamic, this breath can be used when we need to stimulate or increase our physical or mental energy.

Technique:

Sit in a comfortable position with the spine upright and long.  Using the left hand, keeping the palm flat and fingers together, raise it up and use the thumb to block the left nostril.  Take long, deep breaths through the right nostril only.  You may want to begin with practicing this for 3 minutes and build up to 11 minutes.  If you start to feel your energy getting out of balance, you can restore balance with a left nostril breath.

Ujayii Breath

Translated as the “victorious breath,” the ujayii breath is a breath commonly encouraged of practitioners to maintain throughout their asana practices. Also referred to as “the ocean-sounding breath” for the sound created in its practice, this breath is considered the most effective yogic breath for reducing stress and anxiety.  The sound, itself, can be incredibly soothing.

Technique:

The breath is like sighing with your mouth closed. Begin by inhaling through your mouth making a sighing sound and, while still inhaling, close your mouth. See if you can still hear the sound. You’re essentially drawing breath across the back of your throat, over the glottis. As you exhale, begin again with your mouth open making a sighing sound, then continue the breath as you close your mouth. Once you feel comfortable with it and can hear the sound on both the inhale and exhale continue the breath with your mouth closed only. This breath can be done as a regular practice for a set amount of time (e.g., 3 or 11 minutes) or can be done at any time during your day when you are feeling a need to bring greater calmness to your being.

Karma Yoga

Here’s one final note on another fabulous way to practice yoga off the mat.  As mentioned earlier, yoga is a thousands-year-old philosophy of being.  One path of yoga, karma yoga (karma literally translates as “action”) focuses on the performance of seva, selfless service, as a path to enlightenment and liberation.  Even if enlightenment and liberation are not what you are after, I honestly know of no better way to pull myself out of a crappy mood than step outside myself and give to/help/serve someone else. To quote a swami I know, it’ll help you “get over your cheap self.”  You can do this in a large way by volunteering your time to feed or serve the poor or ill, but you can also do this by making the effort to hold the door for the person coming out of the store as you’re going in, or by making a point of smiling, making eye contact with, and saying hello to people you pass on the street — without being attached to the response.  It costs us nothing.  And since, as another yogic teaching tells us, “energy follows thought,” holding that openness of thought and heart toward others will create an open flow of energy within our own being.

On or off the mat, you need to be nothing but the truth of who you are in this – and every –  moment.

Namaste.

Recommended Reading

Bringing Yoga to Life by Donna Farhi

Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope

In addition to her psychotherapy practice, Melissa, who is a certified teacher of Classical Yoga and Kali Natha Yoga, is also developing yoga sets specifically designed to address various mental health issues.

May 20, 2008

The Truth About Anger

Filed under: 2008 Articles,Anger Management,Melissa's Articles — karunacounseling @ 8:45 pm
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By Dr. Melissa Kulick, PhD, RYT

Though so many of us fear it and judge it negatively, both in ourselves and in others, anger is a normal human emotion.  It does, in fact, serve a purpose, as do all emotions.   Our experience of anger tells us that something is wrong and needs our attention; it is a natural response to a perceived threat.  It is there to protect us.  Anger also helps motivate and provide the energy for change, both on individual and larger socio-cultural levels. 

 

The truth is, that few things are inherently and absolutely good or bad; what matters more and determines an object’s or experience’s value is what we do with it.  Our experiences of anger exist on a continuum from mild irritation to rage, and there is a difference between feeling angry and acting angry.  We will talk here in terms of healthy versus unhealthy ways of handling anger.  There are three basic categories to choose from when deciding how we will respond when feeling angry:  suppression; expression and calm

 

Suppressing Anger

 

 

Suppressing (holding in, ignoring or denying) our anger is never healthy.  Suppressing anger turns the energy of the anger inward and can lead on a more physical level to hypertension (high blood pressure) and depression.  It can also result in (either conscious or unconscious) unhealthy indirect expressions of negative feeling.   People who more typically use this mode of relating to anger can tend towards being critical, cynical and/or passive-aggressive.  These folks are often not pleasant to be around and this can significantly impact their relationships in a negative way.

Why do we inhibit our anger?
One significant factor is our history – what we experienced and observed, especially as we were growing up, of what happened when someone “got angry.”  This was powerful learning for us.  If we learned that anger always lead to violence, pain and hurt – or that expression of anger resulted in abandonment – it is unlikely that we will feel safe expressing our anger.  We also may have heard messages growing up that “nice people don’t get angry.”  In either of these scenarios it is also likely that we never had the opportunity to have modeled for us what healthy anger expression would look like.

Issues of self-worth also contribute to the inhibition of anger expression.  Simply put, if we don’t feel good about ourselves we are unlikely to see ourselves as worth standing up for.  Feeling bad about ourselves can also lead to inappropriate, indirect (passive aggressive)  or unhealthy aggressive (see below) expressions of anger and can result in an unfortunate self-perpetuating and -reinforcing cycle of low self-esteem and even shame.

Expressing Anger

To express is to communicate, in some form or fashion.  There are both healthy and unhealthy ways to express anger.

Unhealthy Anger Expression
Unhealthy anger expression comes in several shapes and sizes.  When we engage in manipulation, resistance, withholding or avoidance as a way of communicating anger, we are expressing anger in an  indirect and “passive-aggressive” manner.   Sarcasm is also an indirect way of expressing anger veiled by humor.  As mentioned above, criticism and cynicism can also be used as indirect ways of expressing anger.

 

Anger can also be expressed in direct ways that are unhealthy – as physical or verbal (by words chosen and/or tone and volume employed) aggression.  

Why might we act aggressively?
Again, we start with history.  If our models for dealing with anger were aggressive and violent, this is how we learned to do it.  The value of a healthy model for anger cannot be overestimated.  I must stress here that because anger expression is a learned behavior, it is still very possible to acquire that learning even as an adult (in this case you really can teach an old dog new tricks.)

Anger is a surface emotion; there are always other emotions underlying our anger.   Very often that emotion is fear or hurt, but we may also first experience anger when, deeper down, we are feeling sadness, loneliness, powerlessness, hopelessness, grief/loss, shame or other emotions.  While many of us feel inhibited in expressing anger, anger can also be used as a defensive, safer response to feeling or expressing these other emotions.  In this way, anger can be more about pushing people away and saying we don’t need them – an expression of invulnerability,  whereas these other “softer” emotions are more about acknowledging a desire for comfort or support, which may feel too risky and vulnerable to do.  If the underlying emotion becomes overwhelming (and especially if we never learned healthy ways of coping with the underlying feelings) or the perceived threat of vulnerability becomes that large (and the need for protection that strong), the anger may erupt aggressively. 

Low self esteem and shame can be particularly susceptible to triggering aggressive defensive responses in us.  Shame, by its very nature, is motivated to keep itself hidden, and it is very easy to fall into what is known as a shame-rage cycle that looks like: 1) we’ve made a mistake and we react internally to judge ourselves as bad and unworthy because of it, 2)we believe we need to protect ourselves both from completely acknowledging what we believe to be the truth of our unworthiness and especially from others finding this out, 3)so we act defensively and aggressively in order to establish the other person(s) as the bad one(s), 4) but on some deeper level we know what we are doing and are now only compounding and reinforcing the truth of our badness (as evidenced by our attacking behavior), 5) leading us back to shame and its need to keep itself hidden and protected, and  the cycle continues.  

Healthy Anger Expression
When we express anger in a healthy way we are communicating our experience to another person in such a way that we are “owning” the experience as our own and still leaving room for others to have their own experiences.  It is an honest and direct communication of our concerns in a way that is not intended to exert control over or make others feel bad.  This is what is known as being assertive.  Using I-statements (e.g., “I felt hurt when you didn’t call me back when I expected you to”) is a key aspect of assertive communication.  When we are passive, we are essentially saying that “you are more important than me.”  When we are aggressive, we saying that “I am more important than you.”  When we are assertive, we are saying that “we are both important and deserve respect.”

Calming

 

The third approach to dealing with anger within us is to start by seeking to calm the mental and physical energy that accompanies anger, allowing us the opportunity to make a more conscious and intentional choice in responding to the situation.  By doing this, we increase the likelihood that we will be able to express our anger in a more healthy, assertive way.  It provides us with an increased sense of internal control which then offers us the ability to take the time to further assess the situation and decide, not out of fear and avoidance but from a more detached perspective, if something still needs to be expressed.  We can then also be intentional in how we choose to communicate the issue to others.

The strategies employed in calming this angry energy are often referred to as anger management, and include techniques for addressing both the way we are responding inside our heads (our thinking) and the level of arousal in our bodies.

Cognitive Anger Management
This means exploring and changing how we think.  So much of our anger can be brought on by assumptions and interpretations that we make about others’ actions and, particularly, the intentions and motivations of others’ actions.  Being willing to acknowledge these assumptions and then being willing to challenge them within your head (asking yourself if there are other possible reasonable explanations for the other person’s behavior) or even clarify your interpretation with the other person, is an incredible tool in managing our anger reactions.

Exploring and learning to identify the feelings that underlie our anger (and then learning how and being willing to express those) is another.  You can also assess your current stressors: are you tired, hungry or under significant stress in your life?  Any of these factors can make us more susceptible and sensitive to irritability and quick-temperedness.

At times we carry leftover hurts and angers around with us, unable to let them go, and these “triggers” amplify our anger reactions to present situations.  Forgiveness is something that is incredibly difficult for many people, mostly because it is often very misunderstood.  When we forgive someone, we are not saying that what that person did was okay; it simply means that you are refusing to continue to carry the weight and pain of that grudge around with you anymore.  Letting go of resentment isn’t about letting others off the hook, it’s about giving ourselves relief from our own pain, on our own terms, and refusing to continue to create more unnecessary pain.

Other cognitive approaches to anger management include moving from being stuck fuming in our anger to using the energy of the anger to fuel us toward problem-solving.  Creating a plan of action can defuse built-up mental tension.  Humor, especially silly and creative humor, can also be an effective way to reduce excessive anger.  When we get really angry, we can tread onto the ground of moral/righteous indignation, adamantly assured of our supreme rightness.  Creating an image of taking this to an extreme by picturing ourselves in crown and robes as ruler of the universe can be a humorous way of helping us gain a little perspective.  Using humor to de-escalate our anger does not, however, mean using sarcasm, which is actually an indirect, passive-aggressive way of expressing anger.

Physical Anger Management
These techniques are primarily designed to reduce the physiological arousal – the rush and build-up of physical energy – in our bodies.  There are many practices that can be used to either soothe or release this energy.  Taking a simple deep breath and hesitating before we speak allows us to slow down our process and gives us the chance to be more choiceful in our response.  Slow, deep diaphragmatic (belly) breathing through our nostrils can help lower our heart rate and soothe our nervous system.  (Breathing done through the mouth and only into our chest is more likely to excite our system and can lead to hyperventilation.)  Slowly repeating a calming word or phrase (e.g., “relax”, “stay calm”), while breathing can increase the calming benefit.  Using imagery and visualization of peaceful scenes also reduces our agitation level.  Yoga is a form of physical exercise that can be used both to slow down and calm ourselves and to more vigorously move energy through our bodies, depending on the specifics of your yoga practice that day.  Any form of physical exercise or exertion can potentially help us blow off some steam and put us in a space where we are more able to approach issues that concern us in a less reactive, more reasoned way.  Running (or a brisk walk), jumping rope, hitting a punching bag, even rearranging the furniture, are all forms of this kind of activity.

Again, keep in mind that “managing your anger” really means managing your level of felt disturbance so you can then better assess what your anger is trying to tell you –what needs to be addressed – and then to do so in a healthy, direct manner that is respectful to all persons involved.

 

Recommended Reading:

Overcoming Anger: How to Identify It, Stop It, and Live a Healthier Life by Carol D. Jones, Ph.D.
Facing the Fire by John Lee

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