Archive for January, 2009

Get Happy in 15 Minutes; How to Meditate

meditate1John Kabat-Zinn and many other psychologists have discovered that meditation has a profound effect on how we feel. Studies have shown that in six week weeks of only three 20 minute meditation sessions per week, subjects were demonstrating profound changes in the left pre-frontal cortex, an area responsible for one’s feelings of well-being.

Not only does meditation help us in the long-term, but it helps us in the short-term, as well. It is through the practice of meditation that we are able to accept all the negative aspects of life without identifying with them. Although it is certain that we will all experience grief, suffering, loss, pain, anger, and despair at some point- by being practiced in the art of meditation, we are equipped with the tools to prevent them from taking us under.

Meditation is ours for the taking. It does not cost us anything but a few minutes of our time and patience. Meditation has also been shown to have various other health benefits, most notably with its connection to the Vagus nerve, which helps to decrease cortisol production (the hormone responsible for giving us those little stress guts).

I have run hundreds of “happiness” groups, focused on helping patients increase their feelings of well-being without the use of drugs or alcohol. A core pillar of these groups is the exercise of meditation. Many of those patients initially showed some resistance to the idea, likening  it to some “new-agey” or “hippy” trend. Most were unsure of what it really was, and most importantly- whether they could do it right. Meditation is not an easy practice. It can often feel like changing the course of a river. The following are the basic tips for meditation that are sure to get you started in the right direction:

1)Posture- Make sure that you are sitting on a firm surface or firm pillow. You can either sit on the floor with legs crossed or in a chair with legs shoulder width apart. Just make sure that you are not leaning back on the chair back. Ensure that your back is upright, as if you are sitting on a horse. This posture helps remind the body that the mind is in control. It is a posture of dignity and respect, and symbolizes the act of meditation for yourself each day.

Make sure your chest is lifted and open. This shows that you are open and receptive to what this meditation brings. Make sure that your shoulders are back and relaxed, and that your mouth and jaw are also loose. Thich Nhat Hanh recommends you try slightly smiling.

2) Detachment- A common misconception is that meditation should be an absence of one’s thoughts. This is not possible. View your mind’s energy as you would a flowing river. Each leave that passes, represents a thought. It is your goal to observe those thoughts without judgement, like leaves on a river. Once we are able to separate ourselves from our thoughts, they can no longer bring us the same pain they once did. We soon become comfortable just being with our thoughts, even the most painful. As a thought comes to view, we might think “oh that is interesting that thought has come up now,” and let it pass down the river.

3) Routine- Make sure that you set aside some time for meditation at least three to five days a week, at first. My guess is that once you start to notice the benefits, you will be doing it seven days a week. Most of my patients were on a medication regimen, so I advised them to set aside time for their meditation at the same time they took their medication every day. Another favorite time is right after you wake. This is when the mind is the freshest and most restored. Some prefer right before bedtime. Just make sure that you are not confusing meditation with napping. Meditation requires an alert state of mind.

4) Hands- Your hands can be in one of several positions. These are known as mudras. Each position envokes different feeling states, such as balance, openness, or groundedness. One is the classical forefinger to thumb position. This can signal to the mind an on-the-spot concentration that is often needed for meditation. Another hand position is each hand on the knees, palms facing up. This signals a receptivity to your meditation, an openness to what comes. Some people prefer the traditional Christian prayer position, with both palms pressed together under the chin. The last position is hands on each knee, palms facing down. This envokes a feeling of groundedness, strength, and balance.

5) Eyes- Many people prefer that their eyes are closed. This can be a good thing in that you are not distracted. However, if you find yourself becoming sleepy, you may want to pick a spot about 4-6 inches on the ground in front of you and focus on this during your meditation.

6) Sound- You can meditate quietly or use music if you are more musically inclined. I prefer to listen to Liquid Mind on Pandora radio, which helps to put me in a tranquil state.

7) Breath- As you get started, simply focus on the breaths coming in and out of your body. You can start by inhaling for four, holding for two, and exhaling for four. This puts the body in a deeper state of relaxation (you may even find yourself getting a slight buzz from the amount of oxygen you are taking in) because we do not normally breathe at this slow pace. As you inhale, notice your belly start to rise, as you exhale notice it grow smaller. Remind yourself that each breath is cleansing, like a broom sweeping out the cobwebs of the soul.

8) Ending- At the end of each meditation, many choose to clasp their hands together in the traditional prayer position, bowing their head in gratitude for the meditation as well as showing respect to a higher order in the universe.

Dr. Colleen Long has a doctorate in Clinical Health Psychology from Spalding University in Louisville, Ky. She is the author of Happiness in B.A.L.A.N.C.E and is a successful coach to entrepreneurs around the world. Her professional site can be found on www.DrColleenLong.com, and she is the founder of Aesthetic Genetics– a site focusing on helping couples who struggle with infertility combat stress, which has been proven to be responsible for around 30% of infertility issues. She is the creative director for FreudTV, which is the only site of its kind, developed to help psychologists and psychiatrists connect with the media, as well as each other.

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Now I’m Stressed because I’m Stressed!

baby-jpg-4Research estimates that up to 30% of infertility can be due to stress alone. That puts the individual or couple struggling with infertility in a catch 22. Now, not only are you stressed about not getting pregnant, but now you are stressed about becoming stressed about not getting pregnant.

I have lost track of the number of times women have come to me and said “if one more person tells me to relax, I’m going to lose it!” That is the reason Aesthetic Genetics was created. Our agency sets itself apart from the traditional third-party reproduction agencies in that they combat stress as the first line of defense against infertility.

Many couples throw their hands up in the air and immediately start talking egg donation or surrogacy as soon as they begin having issues. Aesthetic Genetics really tries to look at what other factors might be influencing their difficulties. We take a very holistic approach to infertility, combining foot reflexology, acupuncture, and even guided imagery. In addition to this, we offer psychological counseling to figure out what underlying issues might be at play.

Here are some tips for those individuals and couples struggling with the stress of infertility:

1) Diversify. Sometimes when we put one thing as the central focus of our life, it can become a definite source of stress and strain. Try developing interests in your daily life that distract you from the constant worries of not getting pregnant. Whatever you add, make it really enjoyable. When you start seeing that your life will still be vibrant and full whether or not you have children, you are in effect lessening your worry and stress that you won’t have children. Maybe you set a new goal to read 20 new books this year, maybe you do something really silly and learn how to play dance dance revolution. Whatever it is, make it something that you actually enjoy.

2) Move it. Although its been said before- exercise has 68 proven benefits, stress reduction being one of those. Why then, would anyone not do it? Try to aim for some sort of exercise every day. This has also been shown to help with conception including increased lubrication and immune functioning.

3) Hug it out. Many times sex becomes very mechanical when couples are trying to conceive. Try to make time for physical connection where conception is not the focus. Simple cuddling and hugging with your loved one has been shown to raise oxytocin levels, a very important hormone involved in child bearing.

4) Write it down. Keep a journal that documents your days. Observe how much of your time is being focused on infertility. As you start to follow tip 1, see how those feelings change. Our behavior has a direct influence on our feelings. Sometimes even when we don’t feel like doing something else, by just “doing it,” we can significantly improve how we feel.

5) Find a friend. Although we can influence our hormonal levels when around our partners, female companions and relationships have proven to be of great benefit. Research shows that our oxytocin and other helpful hormones’ levels are raised when around close friends. Try setting a few times a week to get together with those you hold most dear.

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Introduction

My name is Dr. Colleen Long and I was trained as a clinical psychologist. I started Aesthetic Genetics to help couples struggling with infertility. In addition to the traditional steps of using egg donors and surrogates, we also implement a wide range of techniques to help improve your chances of conception.

I hope this blog will help those struggling with infertility cope by being able to read psychological tips and strategies for combatting stress.25

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