Sunday, September 24, 2006

Massage Your Ears!

Memory listening ear massage--in the Brain Gym pedagogy it's called “The Thinking Cap”--is a simple self-massage technique that stimulates over 400 acupuncture points in the ears. By simply massaging your ears from top to bottom using your thumbs and pointer fingers, you access all of these points in just a few seconds.

Ear massage is especially helpful for people who frequently feel over-stimulated by too many sounds and need help in discerning distressing or irrelevant sounds from relevant ones. This technique is also known to help with short-term memory; to relax the cranial bones, jaw, tongue, and face muscles; and to improve hearing and concentration.

I find this exercise to be especially helpful when I need to listen more clearly, concentrate more acutely, or to relax my jaw. When I give massage to those who describe neck or jaw pain, I almost always incorporate ear massage, for I find that it opens the jaw, softens the face, and even loosens tight neck muscles.

Try this: During your next long meeting or class, when you feel you are about to fade out, give your ears a little attention. Massage each ear for 20-30 seconds. Let me know how it works!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Dreaming & Meaning

I have always had vivid dreams. I can still recall dreams I had as a child. And, this week, for some reason, I am having intense dreams every night. These dreams are action-packed, somewhat disturbing, and vivid. I must be processing a lot these days, for my subconscious seems to be shouting at me. I imagine many of you can relate to this experience, although I know a few people who rarely recall their dreams.

So, what do we do with all of the colorful, bizarre, and poignant images and symbols in our dreams? Do you write down your dreams? Keep a journal next to your bed at night? And, how can we take what we're creating during slumber and find deep meaning in the tidal waves, hairless giraffes, and suitcases full of baby bottles?

I take a very personal approach to dream analysis.* So, for the moment, if it is actually possible, try to step away from the "collective consciousness" with all of the usual dream meanings and interpretations we've all heard, and Try this:

Part I: Write down your dream. Be sure to include every detail you remember, from the color of your grandfather's sweater to the sounds and smells. And remember to write down what your dreaming experience was like. Were you aware you were dreaming? Could you make decisions in your dream? Were you an active "character" in your dream or observing from the sidelines or from above?

Part II: After you have recorded your dream, scan your writing for important words and circle them. Don't spend too much time on this portion of the exercise. Obviously, key people, objects, places, and emotional states would be most useful to identify.

Part III: Now, rewrite your dream replacing most of the words you have circled with the meaning you attribute to these words. Here's an example:

Original sentence: "I was floating in the ocean attached to a picnic table, while my family swam away, leaving me with all their luggage."

Analyzed sentence: "I was floating in uncertainty attached to my childhood, while my security swam away, leaving me with all their [emotional?] baggage."

Part IV: Feel free to re-write your renditions a few times to get to the heart of the matter. Feel free to post your re-written dream here!

*I attribute this approach to Leslie Conton, Ph.D.
, a cultural/ transpersonal anthropologist and Fairhaven College professor.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

It's Not All in Your Head

“It makes no difference to the brain/body system whether something actually happened or not. What we feel about our experience creates our ‘reality,’ our model of the world. Emotion releases hormonal patterns which activate circulation, muscles and organic response as well as etching memory. Again, the brain and body respond in exactly the same way to both real and imagined experience.”

– Gordon Stokes & Daniel Whiteside, Tools of the Trade

“A little bit stressed is like a little bit pregnant. There is no such thing as a small stressor. All stressors go into one pot to assault your body’s resources. In other words, stress accumulates.”

–Sharon Promislow, Making the Brain Body Connection

When I was a teenager, my mother and I frequently watched those “women in peril” made-for-TV movies on Sunday nights, starring Judith Light or Meredith Baxter Birney or some other mainstream TV actress. Usually halfway through the two-hour special, our paranoia kicked in and we began securing all the windows and doors. Was that a sound coming from downstairs? I’m afraid to go to the bathroom by myself! Stand outside the door! By the end of the show, we’d be so hyped up, so full of anxiety, that we’d block all the doors to outside so we’d have an early warning system in case someone tried to break in. And, during those nights, we often had bad dreams and trouble sleeping.

Even today I’m still trying to understand why in the world we watched those shows. They terrified us, and even more, they increased our already-heightened worries about being women in our culture. Certainly, we felt relieved at the end when the woman escaped, overcame a difficult situation, or achieved some kind of triumphant result. But, what was the cost?

I tell this story because it is just one example of the ways in which I have experienced self-created anxiety when there was no real threat. I mostly felt “spooked” after watching those shows, but I have also experienced true panic attacks—anxiety that emerged because of overwhelm, stress, or trauma.
Most of us experience moments when anxiety takes over, even when there are no real threats to our safety or survival. Think of the anxiety you feel before public speaking or prior to a job interview or a test. Regardless of the cause – whether real, imagined, or re-recreated from a past trauma – we experience anxiety in our physical body. Our body reacts whether or not a sabre-toothed tiger is actually chasing us. If we think he is chasing us, then our body believes us.

What does your anxiety feel like? I feel the fight/flight center of my body (or Third Chakra) activating and I feel the blood rush away from my extremities and to my center, my core. Breathing becomes difficult, labored, and I have often had to still myself by conscious breathing techniques. Sometimes I've felt faint, other times very tired and unable to think. Everyone experiences anxiety differently, but there are things we can do in the moment to care for ourselves.

One such self-care activity I have used with much success is called Balance Breathing. Balance Breathing, or Alternate-Nostril Breathing, is a technique I learned from a friend, but many people use this technique in different healing modalities. While the theory behind this breathing is to create balance between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, I find it incredibly calming, and have lulled myself out of feelings of anxiety—as well as acute panic attacks—using this technique.

Try this: Balance Breathing. You will be using your thumb and index finger to open and close your left and right nostrils. For example, if you are right handed, close your right nostril with your right thumb, take a full breath in and out of your left nostril, then close your left nostril with your right pointer finger and breathe in and out of your right nostril. Because this breathing takes some focus and time (be very slow and deliberate with each inhalation and exhalation), you will soon notice your whole mind-body system calming down. Give this technique some time to work. I’ve done Balance Breathing for five to ten minutes before. Usually, though, after two-three minutes you’ll notice a difference.

Try this: Explore your anxiety through finger painting. Anxiety can reflect some deep-rooted fears that could well be released through the act of painting. Get a piece of paper, wear grubby clothes, set out your paints, and get messy. What does your anxiety look like? Feel like? Is it hot red, screaming yellow, or cold ice blue? Do several paintings if you like, until you feel you’ve expressed your anxiety or until you feel a little shift in your body. For me, I sometimes suddenly feel tired. Then, I know I am done. What is this like for you?

What techniques or approaches work for you? Feel free to share your experiences if you like.