All posts by Monique Minahan

About Monique Minahan

Monique Minahan is a writer and yoga teacher offering her heart to the world through words that motivate, inspire, and encourage. Connect with her at mindfulmo.com.

“Shakti Rising”: Empowering Women From the Inside Out

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 12.34.07 PMI recently had the unique and almost otherworldly experience of stepping into the world of Shakti Rising; a nonprofit social change organization that takes a holistic approach to empowering women and girls from the inside out, with the vision that healthy, empowered women are the potential change-makers in their families, social circles, and communities. They distinguish an empowered female leader from a powerful female leader, a concept I found fascinating.

During the hours I spent at Shakti Rising when I attended their community “Garden Day,” I interacted with a number of women; some of which were on a transformational journey, some of which were there to volunteer, and some of which led the program. The sense of community and support was palpable among everyone, even though many of us had just met.

The women live together in a large home, taking classes, facing their personal demons or difficulties daily, and learning to live in community. As I worked alongside these women, saw how they interacted, and enjoyed a delicious lunch with them, I started to put my finger on what was unique about this place, apart from its holistic, inside-out approach to healing and growing.

It was the energetic space and how open, inviting, and accepting it seemed to be.

The benefits of this unique model, where women live and work side by side, became obvious to me as I witnessed the support they all received from each other. It was a refreshing change from most modern day living arrangements, where single women often live alone, only meeting other women in passing, when meeting up with friends, or in a competitive work environment. The benefit these women receive from living in community became quickly apparent. As one woman said, when commenting on how much she enjoyed preparing the food with other women, “We were not meant to cook alone.”

Shakti is a Hindu goddess representing divine, manifesting, feminine energy. She takes many names and forms, sometimes representing a motherly, fertile form, and other times is described as a fierce warrior. As such, the name “Shakti Rising” really hit home when I realized the underlying intention of the organization to empower women to rise up into their whole, complete, empowered being and then send that complete, integrated, whole-hearted woman into the world to empower, inspire, and lead others without needing to overpower others to do so.

In part, their description reads:

Our way is to walk our talk, organically closing the gap between principle and practice. We do this by welcoming change, valuing friendships, taking risks, and creating lives with fun, passion and laughter. We practice presence, gratitude and forgiveness. We delight in relationships that are long term and mutually beneficial.

We are woven together by what we value: authenticity, faith, courage, integrity, commitment and service. We believe in the power of our real life choices, knowing that mundane actions can have the most far-reaching implications. We are dedicated to sustainability and the pursuit of social and environmental change. Our lifestyle embraces the needs of the present and the legacy of the future.

Shakti Rising has several locations, including the Bay Area, San Diego, New Mexico, and Kauai. Their current goal is to reach 1,000 monthly donors in support of the education and leadership services of Shakti Feminine University. They also welcome energetic support and volunteerism, as they are largely a word-of-mouth organization.

My visit to the world of Shakti Rising sprung out of an interest to be of service to other women. I thought my contribution would be through teaching yoga. After experiencing the Shakti Rising community personally and getting to know the women and some of their individual stories, I realized that this was an opportunity to take my yoga off my mat.

Practicing yoga doesn’t always mean bending over backwards physically. Sometimes it means bending over backwards to help someone else plant a seed. Instead of supporting someone in an arm-balancing pose, sometimes we support them as they learn to trust themselves fully in the real world. We all hold space for introspection and transformation when we attend a yoga class, but it’s also entirely possible to create a sacred space in our communities where transformation, conversation, healing, and growing are possible and welcomed.

As women, we are all in a position to shift the paradigm of being a powerful woman to being an empowered woman. The difference is that one power comes from outside of us and the other comes from within. Our young women are our future leaders, and they are following our example.

A Modern Yoga Philosophy for an Awakened Heart and an Embodied Mind

AHEMI recently read Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind (A.H.E.M.) by Julian Walker. It’s an expanded version of the manual Walker and Hala Khouri use in their yoga teacher training by the same name.

Having just recently finished yoga teacher training myself and keen to learn more about leading people through an experience of yoga and not just yoga poses, I knew this book was for me. While an understanding of anatomy and alignment are foundational cornerstones for teaching yoga safely, I wanted to learn about the sometimes intangible and energetic experience we can tap into through our yoga practice.

Having felt this in my own body through yoga, I wanted to know how to make this accessible to my students. I was particularly interested in how to weave the holistic form of therapy known as somatic psychology into a yoga class. Yoga by its very nature connects, honors and respects the mind, body, and spirit. Balancing this mind-body-spirit approach with the fascinating and respected field of neuroscience was sure to be a powerful combination.

A.H.E.M. almost seems to come to life, with its asana and pranayama practices sprinkled throughout, as well as the introspective questions and suggested writing practices. It felt like I was stepping into the book more than just reading it. As I read and practiced the movements or contemplated the questions from both the perspective of a teacher and a student, I could feel an inner shift happen.

A.H.E.M. spells out a modern yoga philosophy that is not bound by the yoga sutras while staying true to the heart of yoga. The mind, body, and spirit are all players in this approach to modern yoga, and all are honored and embraced.

In the exchange below Walker answers a few of my questions on his background, experience, and unique approach to yoga.

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Monique: Julian, how long have you been teaching yoga and what experience do you have in the fields of neuroscience, neurobiology, and somatic psychology?

Julian: I have been teaching yoga since 1993. I came to the USA alone as an immigrant/refugee when I was 19 from South Africa and have largely educated myself whilst initially working minimum wage jobs. I have been fascinated with finding ways to understand and experience the relationships between spirituality, psychology, and science both in my own process and practice and in the work I have created to share with my students and bodywork clients over the years.

My initial deep yoga training (5 years as a student and 11 years teaching at her school) was with Ana Forrest, who has pioneered work in yoga and psychology. I went to a massage school called the Institute of Psycho-Structural Balancing, and have studied with various mentors along the way. Mostly I have studied the history and theory of body-based psychology as well as the burgeoning field of neuroscience through extensive reading and immersing myself in lectures online.

392244_326277700735072_451275225_n-194x300Monique: I found your section on the chakras especially interesting. You refer to them as “embodied and psychological experiences that most likely have their basis in our neurobiology.” For those of us unfamiliar with neurobiology, can you expand briefly on how mind­-body energy might have its roots in the nervous system?

Julian: Ah, great question! I think an elegant way to describe my theory here is that subjective experience – consciousness and our feeling of energy – are all expressions of our biology. For example, when we feel scared we know that there is adrenaline and cortisol coursing through our bodies, our heart rate is elevated and blood is rushing into our large fight-or-flight muscles.

Likewise, when in deep states of meditation there is a correlation between the quieting down of brain areas that track the boundaries of our bodies and location in time and space on the one hand, and a beautiful experiential sense of being at one with all things as we rest in the eternal void, on the other.

I became fascinated with how the chakras correlate with key nerve plexi (bundles of nerves that branch off the spinal cord to communicate with muscles, organs and glands) and with how we experience life through our bodies. For me, the chakras are a kind of map of how the mind lives in the body; and the nervous system (as well as the endocrine system, which secretes our powerful hormones and neurotransmitters) is a key component of this.

What if the chakras are a heightened awareness of our capacity to experience the neuro-endocrine system from the inside? What if our lived emotional experience is a whole body phenomenon involving the brain, nervous system and musculature?

Monique: Throughout A.H.E.M. you refer to both “mindfulness” and “embodiment.” I’ve seen the two placed into separate categories, and I wonder if you can comment on whether you see them as separate processes or if they can coexist and/or contribute to each other?

Julian: When I talk about embodiment, I am referring to a sense of being really aware of our bodies. Feeling grounded, empowered and in touch with our emotions and sensations, are all aspects of body awareness. We come to this awareness of the body via mindful attention. In essence, it is a brain function we can train ourselves to access more deeply. If our mindfulness does not include embodiment, then we feel like a floating head! Ungrounded, disempowered, out of touch. If our embodiment does not include mindfulness we can be reactive, impulsive or negatively self-indulgent.

With yoga, we can use mindfulness to facilitate a more integrated sense of being alive in our bodies and in touch with our emotional and intuitive wisdom

Monique: In another of your published writings you say, in reference to modern yoga, “We get to define what yoga means for us in the 21st century. This is Enlightenment 2.0.” Where do you see A.H.E.M. fitting into the dynamic picture of modern yoga as it continues to evolve?

Julian: Looking at the history of yoga, it has always been in a dynamic process of evolution. Always influencing and being influenced by the various cultures with which it has come into contact. Yoga is deeply concerned with psychology, science and ethics, and our human understanding of these fields keeps evolving. For me, any field of knowledge, practice and inquiry has to be open to the progress of human understanding.

We maintain yoga as a living tradition that serves our current needs and reflects our current knowledge when we keep it open. I see yoga more as a methodology, a mode of inquiry, than as a dogmatic belief system set in stone. For me, whatever is really true about what yoga is and what yoga does for human beings can only be more deeply revealed by looking at it through the lens of science, philosophy and psychology. It is an exciting process!

My book is the culmination of 20 years reflecting on the relationships between ancient and modern, spiritual and psychological, experiential and scientific. It is an expression of what I have found and how I teach and offers teachers and students a modern and integrated way to think about and experience yoga. I hope it can be of service.

Photo credit: Julian Walker

What Will You Do When Your Life Flashes Before Your Eyes?

the pathI had an interesting experience yesterday. One of those life-flashes-before-your-eyes kind of moments.

I won’t go into the particulars of the incident, but what is important is that I saw how, in a few short seconds, my life could have been gone and, after a breath or two, the realization that I was still here.

This sat a little heavier with me than it might most people because I’ve experienced being on the other side of loss, where I was the surviving half of a pair. I’ve written about this before, as it was the slow-but-sure catalyst for a complete collapsing and rebuilding of my inner and outer life, perspective, and purpose.

For a long time after I had reentered society and “healed,” I noticed that I was hyper-sensitive to the small things in life. Giving someone a hug, saying goodbye or hello, a bird flying by, listening to a heartbeat – these all struck me as so precious and fleeting. I marveled at how no one else seemed to recognize the value in these small moments, while also realizing I could not live with this kind of intensity. I could not keep treating each moment as if it could be the last.

Or could I?

If I did value each moment as if it could be the last, it ramped up my experiences to the level of sacred. It slowed down the pace of life to one slow-motion moment. Life simultaneously filled and broke my heart every day from the sheer happiness at being alive and the knowledge that this too will end someday.

Over time this intense attitude faded some, as you can imagine. I got comfortable with my new normal life. I was able to enjoy it without valuing it as priceless. I told myself it just wasn’t sustainable to live with that kind of intensity.

I now realize it wasn’t sustainable because I wasn’t yet strong enough to sustain it.

It takes a lot of strength to take on life fully, with all its rawness, beauty, fullness, and heartbreak. It takes a strength and commitment that no one can give us because it has to come from the inside out. Perhaps this is why we tend to get inspired or feel fearless momentarily, and then slowly fade back into a more comfortable zone of living where people are nice, loving, and live their lives with an ease and trust that everything’s going to be alright. We’re all going to live to a hundred, tragedy doesn’t touch us, and let’s put off that dream until tomorrow.

I found certain kinds of yoga lit the flame deep inside me to live my fullest life, to face my fears, and to live each day as if I was going to die tomorrow.

That’s a question that works wonders for me, and I often call on it when I feel especially afraid or especially self-conscious about putting myself out there.

I ask myself, If you died tomorrow, would you wish you had done this?

The answer is usually yes. Because in the light of death, vulnerability doesn’t seem so scary. In the light of death, vulnerability is all there is. It allows us to turn ourselves inside out, not so much for all the world to see, but more for us to see. For us to feel. For us to let out all our inner, protected, sensitive layers and let them feel the freedom of being unprotected and fully alive.

In the light of life, vulnerability is dangerous. It exposes us and that means people might be able to poke a hole in our armor with their harsh words, opinions, or indifference.

It also means people could get inside us. God forbid someone come up close and touch our beating heart, see our deepest fears, or learn that we are only human like them.

I’ve often thought when our lives flash before our eyes it would happen quickly, in our last moments of life. Isn’t that how it’s always portrayed in the movies or in stories?

My experience of my life flashing before my eyes was quite slow. It happened over the course of hours, as I witnessed every step I took in my daily life that I might not have been able to take. Everything I might normally take for granted I saw as alive, priceless, fascinating, and almost unreal.

Even so, I saw old patterns acting themselves out. Fear, defenses, walls. It was as if, since I was still alive, I still felt I had to protect my “self” somehow.

This is the glory of being human.

I find it unfortunate that it often takes loss or trauma to remind us of the intrinsic value of life, of a breath, of a heartbeat. The urgency and brevity of life often does not fully register in us until we are faced with our own mortality or that of someone close to us.

It’s not just every new day that is a gift, an opportunity, and an invitation to live fully.

It is every moment.

Every moment we can choose to embrace or pass by. And it is not just an invitation. It is our obligation. As humans, as parents, as partners, as friends, as children, as human beings it is our obligation to step into our lives fully, so that when our life flashes before our eyes, we will not have to wonder, What would I have done if I knew I was going to die today?

We will have already done it. We will have already done it, spoke it, wrote it, shared it, lived it.

In the words of Mary Oliver, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

How The MELT Method Is Bringing Bodies Back into Balance

melt4

I took my first MELT (Myofascial Energetic Length Technique) class this past weekend at a local yoga studio. I’d heard amazing things about MELT and had wanted to try a class for some time, but hadn’t had a chance yet to experience it myself.

During the class we used a long, soft foam roller, multiple small, different-sized balls on our hands and feet, and a variety of short, repetitive movements on different areas of the back, legs, hands, and feet.

There was no big, overt movement, yoga poses, or breaking a sweat required, but by the end of the class my body felt noticeably balanced, rested, and remarkably calm.

I asked the instructor, Roeshan Shadravan, a certified MELT instructor and licensed holistic practitioner, to share some of her insights about MELT and how it works.

melt3MM: Roeshan, what is MELT and how does it actually work in the body?

RS: In a nutshell, without getting too technical, MELT Method gently stimulates or excites cells to produce more ground fluid (the stuff that makes joints juicy) through the use of a soft roller and hand and foot balls, thereby tapping into the connective tissue of your body to Reconnect, Rebalance, Rehydrate, and Release; the 4 R’s of MELT.

It then rinses or pushes the fluids into the areas of the body that commonly hold imbalances (areas that typically tend to be dehydrated, compressed, or unstable due to stuck stress in the body from active living and aging) which over time cause pain and instability.

Biomechanics reveals “you can’t be efficiently mobile if you are inefficiently stable,” and science shows us “connective tissue hydration is required for the extensibility necessary for whole-body stability.”

Thus, by learning and following the MELT Method techniques and sequences, you gain the tools to learn how to push and drive the fluids naturally produced and found in your body through your connective tissue, decreasing the number of barriers (stuck stress or restrictions in the body) and redistributing the fluids in your body more efficiently and evenly so that your connective tissue can return with ease from a taut, dry, brittle state back to a smooth, fluid, liquid state that moves and functions more efficiently. AKA MELTing your connective tissue! Simple, noninvasive, and effective. It’s brilliant!

MM: How did you get interested in MELT? What was your first experience with it?

RS: Where to begin? I look back to the Spring of 2011, when I was first introduced to MELT by Sue Hitzmann, the creator of the MELT Method. I had heard good things about it but wasn’t sure what exactly it was. So I decided to go to the source, Sue, and take a class, see what all the hype was about.

The roller was soft and comfortable to use and I actually enjoyed using it. (My previous experiences with foam rollers were painful and unpleasant to use.) This MELT roller was different, and I felt the positive shifts in body instantly.

For years I had been experimenting with any ball I could get my hands on (tennis, golf, lacrosse, etc.) on my hands and feet, knowing the importance and role the hands and feet play in relation to whole-body wellness. It’s like it is innately ingrained us; give someone in pain a ball and the first they do is roll around on it. But again there was something different, unique, about these MELT balls.

The immediate change the MELT balls yielded in my body was noticeable. And they were easy to use, no harsh, sharp, unpleasant surprises, as I followed the MELT sequences on my hands and feet.

My life has never been the same, in a good way, since that day.

MM: Can you talk a little about connective tissue, its role in the body, and how MELT works on it?melt1

RS: In all my years of studies as a Holistic Practitioner I was familiar with connective tissue, its importance and connection to the nervous system and the role it plays in creating a healthy, free moving, sound body.

I had been practicing and studying for over a decade how to address connective tissue through hands-on bodywork, but never had I seen or experienced how to address connective tissue so effectively through hands-off bodywork. This really opened my eyes and swung the door wide open on how I could help, not only heal my own body, but help others alleviate pain and tension (aka stuck stress) in their body through self-care via the MELT Method.

With all that said, truly the best way to really begin to grasp and comprehend the question “What is MELT Method?” is to experience MELT. Let your body answer the question, give you feedback, validation, and feel of how it all works. Trust me. Your body will thank you.

Really this is just the tip of the iceberg. As you dive deeper and deeper into your connective tissue via MELT, your body will being to reveal and unveil what is truly happening inside this delicate ecosystem we call the human body.

photo credit: Jesse Kaplan, Daniella DeVarney

“Too Religious” for School: Yoga Curriculum Sparks Lawsuit in Southern California

little OmToday marks the first day of trial in a lawsuit over whether yoga is a religious practice and should or should not be allowed in schools. The case of Sedlock vs. Baird, et al., has been brought by parents and guardians of children who attend an Encinitas school that includes yoga in the curriculum.

The San Diego case is generating strong opinions and emotion on both sides. It places front and center the issue of separation of church and state. While each side have their respective opinions, the trial will dig deep into the roots and origins of yoga as well as yoga as it’s practiced in the modern day. A jury of 12 citizens will decide the outcome after weighing evidence and expert testimony.

Yoga Alliance has joined YES! Yoga For Encinitas Students in preparing for and defending the case on behalf of the school district. The school district claims the yoga being taught to the students is not of a religious nature. The school’s yoga program is funded by a grant from the KP Jois Foundation. Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, also referred to as Guruji, is credited with establishing the widely practiced form of yoga known as Ashtanga.

The petitioner’s expert, a PhD and Harvard professor of religious studies, has submitted an 86-item declaration that spells out specific aspects of yoga she argues prove yoga is a religious practice.

She makes the following assertions:

  • The practices taught by the EUSD yoga curriculum promote and advance religion, including Hinduism—whether or not these practices are taught using religious or Hindu language.
  • EUSD curriculum teaches Ashtanga religious concepts of yama and niyama.
  • EUSD curriculum teaches children to play act as yogis, i.e. Hindu religious specialists.
  • EUSD curriculum teaches Sun Salutation—which represents worship of solar deity.
  • EUSD yoga includes pranayama—to prepare for samadhi (uniting with Universal).
  • EUSD curriculum includes Buddhist mindfulness meditation.
  • EUSD yoga instructors have taught children to say “Namaste” to each other while gesturing with a religiously symbolic “praying hands” position.
  • EUSD yoga instructors have taught children to sit in a “lotus” position that resembles that often used in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain meditation.
  • Hindus warn that yoga will cause Christians to adopt Hinduism. Prominent Hindu spokespersons warn that Christians who practice yoga will inevitably adopt Hindu religion.

Three experts have been retained to testify on behalf of the school district. One of the experts, a PhD and professor of Indic and comparative religion at Loyola Marymount University, submitted the following response:

  • Petitioners point to the use of “Namaste” as a religious element of the yoga program. The use of the term Namaste in the EUSD curriculum, however, would be the equivalent of greeting students in a French class by saying “Bonjour.”
  • Philosophy, mathematics, architecture, literature, the sciences: all these disciplines have their origins deep in the history of world civilizations, whether arising from the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia, North America, or South America. World culture has been enriched by contributions from all these cultures. Incorporating yoga movements first practiced in India into a program of physical education is appropriate, particularly where the teachers are careful not to impose religious meaning in their classes. In my opinion, this appears to be the case with the EUSD yoga program.

A second expert on behalf of the school district, a PhD and professor at St. John’s College, supports this opinion, adding the following statement:

The Dattatreyayogasastra, an earlier text teaching hatha yoga, is clear on this matter: anyone can practice this yoga, no matter what their belief. Some believe in God (brahmins); some believe there is no God (Buddhists); some practice renunciation (ascetics); and some focus on the good to be had in this world and have no belief in a hereafter (materialists). The Dattatreyayogasastra clearly conveys that yoga was for everyone, and that it did not belong to any single religion. One can reasonably claim, in fact, that versions of yoga such as these are self-consciously non-religious, in the sense that they are not partisan to a particular metaphysics, or dogma, or set of rituals.

He compares the modern practice of yoga to the game of basketball:

Similarly, modern sport and physical culture grew up in the same cultural milieu as modern yoga. But it cannot therefore be asserted that such practices are inherently religious. For example, the game of basketball was created in the context of a religious missionary organization (the YMCA) in the same decade that modern yoga began to develop in America (1891). In my opinion, to claim that the practice of yoga techniques in secular, ecumenical, or religiously plural settings in the United States today is inherently religious is akin to claiming that college basketball is inherently religious because of its missionary Christian origins.

Whatever the outcome, both sides will have the ability to appeal the decision to a higher court.

I personally find it interesting that activities related to religious-based holidays are routinely practiced in schools without much objection. Where to draw the line on what is acceptable seems to stem largely from one’s personal perspective and comfort level.

What do you think? Share your comments below.

 

Photo source: Flickr

What We Can Learn From Being Judged

Dave Wants YouWe’ve all experienced the deflating feeling when someone judges us. Whether to our face or through a friend, the words carry the same weight.

Someone else is saying we are less than, we aren’t good enough, we have failed, we are on the wrong path, or we are a disappointment.

Even the strongest of us have a human reaction to judgement. We all long for acceptance, connection, and unconditional love.

Perhaps the most common topics we experience feeling judged about are our views on religion or politics. The palpable sense that, If you’re not doing it my way, you’re doing it the wrong way.

I recently experienced the weight of judgement from someone very close to me. My initial reaction was to feel hurt and hopeless. I could foresee this same judgement continuing to be leveled at me for years to come. It felt like a heavy weight that would not budge.

In an effort to walk my talk, I didn’t try to run away from the feeling. I tried to observe the feelings I had and why I had them. The more I sat with this dynamic feeling, the more it began to shift. While it was true the person judging me will probably continue to do so, when I turned the mirror on myself, I started to see places I could clean up my own attitudes and judgements.

As much as we’d like to think people will change, the reality is the only person we can change is ourselves. My experience of being judged inspired me to get soft and sensitive to other people whose decisions, beliefs, or lifestyles I might not subscribe to myself. As open-minded as I like to think I am, I saw places I was being inflexible, whether through my words or my actions.

I literally felt a softening happen in my heart as I owned up to this chink in my own character.

I once went to a yoga class where, for the last five minutes before savasana the teacher instructed the class to practice whatever poses they chose. As bodies began to move freely and uniquely, the instructor commented, “Notice how it’s possible for us to all move differently in the same space.”

Her words sunk in deep as I moved honoring my own pace, needs, and breath. The entire room seemed to be a moving metaphor for our world.

We all inhabit the same space of this earth. It is entirely possible for us to honor our own truth and the truth of others. We can’t change other people, but we can choose to “be the change we wish to see” by opening our hearts a little wider and softening our insistence that our way is the only way. When we judge others we slap a label on them that blocks us from seeing their deeper beauty, our universal connection, and our common humanity.

May we all march to the beat of our own drum, but sing the same song of love.

Why We Need to Break Free of Facebook

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by social media? Like you’ve had enough but you just can’t quit?

I’ve been feeling this desire to quit Facebook for some time now, but kept pushing it away as an unrealistic suggestion.

How could I even consider that? Actually deleting my Facebook account?

Still, the idea kept nagging at me, so I asked myself: What do I want to do with my life? Does Facebook help me do that? After admitting it was a major distraction from what I really want my attention to focus on, my mind started to quickly throw out reasons why I couldn’t possibly quit. Even then, I still could not deny that Facebook was not contributing to my most authentic, true life.

In fact, it was taking me away from it.

While it doesn’t take my body anywhere, it takes my mind away. It clutters my mind with status updates and product ads I can live without. The friends I’d like to keep, but it’s become a matter of diminishing return in a way.

While on its face Facebook appears to be all about connection, as the name implies, it’s a superficial connection. You’re getting the face people choose to show you as opposed to their heart and soul. As one of my friends responded when I complained she wasn’t on Facebook and couldn’t be my “friend,” “I’m not your Facebook friend. I’m your real friend.”

Life is too short for artificial connections. I want authentic connections.

A study out of Harvard analyzed the social media phenomena and gave some credence to the concept that updating our Facebook status stimulates the same reward centers in our brains as sex or food. The study found that “upwards of 80% of posts to social media sites (such as Twitter) consist simply of announcements about one’s own immediate experiences.”

Diving deeper into the importance and motivation for self-disclosure, results revealed that participants would even give up money in order to speak about themselves. The results were magnified when the factor of having an “audience” was included. The researchers concluded that brain regions associated with both “intrinsic value” as well as “reward value” were stimulated by such communication about one’s self.

So if you feel “addicted” to social media, you’re not alone.

I’ve started to see it as an empty addiction, and more importantly, a distraction from the beauty of real life. The dissatisfaction of not receiving enough “likes” or the focus on capturing every moment so we can post it or Tweet it seems to me to diminish present-moment awareness and the deep fulfillment and peace present in the simplest aspects of our lives.

In our age of more is better and information overload, we are told simple is not enough. Our senses are so used to being overstimulated that we can almost miss the beauty in a bee buzzing, a flower opening, or a clear beautiful laugh.

I get caught up in the rat race of daily life just like we all do, and I have to work hard at re-centering, reconnecting, and remembering my true essence, my true purpose, and the absolute fleeting, brief, unpredictable nature of life.

The words of Leo Babauta put it plainly: “I quit Facebook because I wanted to live deliberately.”

His words borrow a phrase from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Here’s to living deliberately and to fronting the essential facts of life.

I feel lighter already and refreshed to return to my real life more completely, less distracted, and able to put my full attention on the slowness of a sunset, the connection of a real hug, the smell of garlic in a pan, and the steady rhythm of a heartbeat.

Instead of trying to capture and freeze-frame all of life’s moments, I intend to relish them fully. To live deliberately, fully, and with as little distraction and regret as possible.

 

Photo credit: Flickr

“This is Just Yoga”: Being Spiritual But Not Religious

solitudeHow do you define spirituality?

I grew up thinking being religious meant you were spiritual and vice versa. When I walked away from organized religion in my early 30s, I thought I was walking away from spirituality, as well.

When I would experience blissful moments of peace, connection, or unparalleled stillness on my yoga mat, I had no word for it. This is just yoga, I thought. When I was introduced to mantra and chanting and started to look forward to it at the end of a class, marveling at the higher resonance I experienced through it, I again thought to myself, This is just yoga.

When yoga teachers talked about the Universal or mythical gods and goddesses, it made me a little uncomfortable because it started to sound a little too “spiritual.” This part’s not for me, I thought. Yet I could feel myself drawn to classes with an emphasis on philosophy more than hot yoga classes.

The more I began to focus on meditation and living and moving mindfully, the more I began to run across the word “spiritual” in my research and in my search for like-minded people. My practices of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness were bringing me home; home to a body I had never inhabited before. They were delivering me to my fullest life and preparing me to handle life and loss like an inhale and an exhale.

Due to my deeply religious upbringing, I would see parallels everywhere. Practices that existed on opposite ends of the spiritual spectrum seemed to me to have a lot in common. The humility and reverence at times present in both prayer and meditation. The devotional feeling present both in singing and chanting. The trust in a marvelous higher source called the Universal or God. The life force of prana and the life force of the Holy Spirit. Buddhist concepts like right effort, right speech, and respect sounded just like what I’d learned Jesus to teach.

When I first heard the suggestion that violence is the result of humanity “forgetting who we are,” or forgetting our inherent true nature, our universal oneness, I was reminded of Jesus’ dying words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

According to professor of psychology David N. Elkins, Ph.D., “The word spirituality comes from the Latin root spiritus, which means ‘breath’ – referring to the breath of life. It involves opening our hearts and cultivating our capacity to experience awe, reverence, and gratitude. It is the ability to see the sacred in the ordinary, to feel the poignancy of life, to know the passion of existence and to give ourselves over to that which is greater than ourselves.”

I see many people redefining spirituality these days, allowing it to exist and thrive as an internal state, independent of organized religion. Others would call that kind of talk sacrilegious.

And I see many people struggling to find an acceptance and a validity to being spiritual without being religious. For some their religious roots haunt them, and for others the stigma of “spirituality” blocks their curiosity, even though they often find themselves face-to-face with a yearning for a deeper connection to life.

The dispute over whether yoga is religious and should be allowed in schools continues to create controversy. I personally don’t feel yoga is religious. It is not a religion. It may, however, allow you to have some deeper experiences of being that some would call “spiritual.” It is largely our labeling that creates divisiveness.

If I have a non-dualistic experience of universal connection through yoga or meditation, and you have a dualistic experience of universal connection through church and prayer, and mine prepares me to live and die in peace and yours to live in heaven, who’s to say I am right and you are wrong? The two of us are here on earth, side by side, striving to be the best human beings we can be.

Many people become spiritual seekers in the wake of loss, trauma, or in old age. The reality of death seems to wake up a sometimes dormant spiritual need.

We will all die one day. I’m more interested in how you choose to live than in how often you go to church or how often you meditate.

In the words of English-American revolutionary Thomas Paine, “The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”

photo by: jhoc

How One Doctor Is Giving A Voice to Victims of Rape

Bulbul Bahuguna, M.D., is a Chicago-based psychiatrist and author who has specialized in helping victims of sexual abuse for the past 22 years.

She is giving a voice to the many silent victims of sexual abuse through her sobering book, The Ghosts That Come Between Us. Her main character, Nargis, narrates on the complexities of sexual abuse from a firsthand perspective, giving the reader a rare inside look at the heart of a victim.

In the interview below, Bulbul explains the multifaceted nature of sexual abuse and the importance of female empowerment in healing.

MM: Bulbul, can you talk about the psychological aspects related to recovering from sexual abuse? Does it differ depending on the type of abuse, such as incest versus molest by a stranger or rape?

BB: Sexual abuse can involve molestation or rape, either by a stranger or by a family member. While each patient is different and has her own unique story of abuse and victimization, there are several common themes in her clinical presentation.

Symptoms vary depending on the age of the victim at the time of the sexual assault, age of abuser, relationship with perpetrator, concomitant verbal, physical, and emotional abuse or threats, family constellation and dynamics, level of education, intensity, extent, frequency, and duration of the abuse, and finally, access to a support system or mental health professionals.

Usually, the perpetrator is not a stranger and is well-known to the victim.

MM: As a practicing therapist for 22 years, what are some ways society can begin to de-stigmatize sexual abuse?

BB: Sexual abuse often happens in the secrecy of the home and goes unreported.
It is critical to enhance the awareness of abuse issues, which I hope to accomplish through my novel, The Ghosts That Come Between Us.

The role of social media in furthering the awareness of child and women abuse issues is crucial, and the platforms now available can deliver this awareness at unprecedented speed.

The key is to have such platforms accessible across all socioeconomic strata of society. Fighting the war against child abuse through film, television, and radio is equally critical, as is easy access to mental health in schools and communities.

MM: How do you think this greater awareness could assist victims and societies in the healing process?

BB: People have been coming forth and telling their stories of abuse. This helps other victims have the courage to come forward and talk about their own abuse issues, understand and learn new coping tools to deal with these very difficult issues in their own lives, and take solace in the thought that they are not alone.

All these efforts help reduce the stigma associated with sexual abuse, galvanize people resources, and direct people to getting the right kind of help and attention they deserve.

MM: How did your work as a psychiatrist influence your novel, The Ghosts that Come Between Us, and its main character, Nargis?

BB: I have been a psychiatrist for over 22 years, and have treated scores of patients with abuse issues. I have seen people struggle with family dysfunction and sexual victimization; i.e., having to cope with blame, guilt and shame, as well as secrecy, stigma and self-flagellation, feeling stuck and having difficulty in moving on.

Listening to these heart-wrenching stories helped me to create a fictional character, Nargis, who is molested by her father. I was able to step into the shoes of the protagonist, which enabled me to tell as authentic story as is possible with multiple points of view reflected in a layered manner.

Holding her hand, I walked with Nargis through the same streets, sights and scenes that she did – through agony, hate, and love – through fear, heartache, and longing. Through self-talk Nargis says it all: the most brutally honest thoughts and the most floridly distorted ones as well. Sometimes she expresses feelings that other victims may have also felt, but are afraid to acknowledge.

MM: What are the most effective methods a woman can employ to deal with and overcome childhood trauma, such as sexual molestation?

BB: Empowering a woman is the first step on the path to recovery.

First of all, it is important to recognize that it takes a lot of courage for a victim to talk about sexual abuse. She feels excessive guilt and shame because of her body being sexually aroused.

Often times, the victim has a lot of difficulty with trusting others and does not believe that other people can help. She is afraid that most people will either not believe her, like her family, most likely, did not believe her. Or that most other people will blame her for what happened, like her family probably also did.

It is important for her to understand what happened: that the victim was not the instigator of the crime.

MM: What is the first step to preventing sexual abuse as a society?

BB: Society can prevent the tragedy of sexual abuse through education, education and education, of both men and women.

As a National Trustee of the American India Foundation, a leading charity involved in accelerating social change in India, we work with local NGOs in India to empower women through education and livelihood to help families. This promotes self-esteem and self-reliance in women.

MM: Do you feel the stigma of abuse is diminishing?

BB: People across the globe are working toward a society that does not discriminate based on gender. The stigma of sexual abuse is slowly diminishing, and there is a greater willingness not only to get help but also to help the victims and survivors.

The recent national outcry in India against the gang rape of Braveheart speaks to this societal change, and it is a tribute to the Indian media that it did not disclose her name. Millions of men and women came out on the streets demanding that rape cases not languish in court for 10 years, but be put on a fast track for justice.

But there is a lot of work ahead. Silence only enables the crime.

 

Photo credit: Bulbul Bahuguna

photo by: Katie Tegtmeyer

How to Be As Patient As This Week’s New Moon

amazing-sky-amazing-sky-moon-clouds-1400x1050As the New Moon secretly peaks behind layers of darkness, there is often no external proof of her existence.

Yet full and heavy she rises, and full and heavy she sets.

There are within each of us new moons that have not yet become full moons. Projects, dreams, or aspirations that are not yet ready to be revealed to the world. They are not yet meant to be seen.

Just as with the moon, the vessel does not change.

The light changes.

As the light changes its angle and strength, more becomes visible. What was shadowed and murky before becomes clear and illuminated.

There is a peace and a beauty in the unfulfilled, the unimagined, the unrevealed, and the unknown. There can be no agenda because you don’t know where you are going.

Celebrate that today.
Celebrate being lost.
Celebrate being in the dark.
Celebrate being confused.

There is a purity and a deep joy that will rise when you stop trying to find your way and bathe in your present moment.

Bathe in the darkness. Bathe in the freedom of the unknown.

The light will reveal itself when it is time.

 

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