Morning Practices

 
by Ann Zimmerman, LAc.
 
How we start the day makes a huge impact in how we experience life. My ideal morning starts early, rising at 5:30 to meditate. I wake before the rest of my family to have “me time”. Time to rise slowly from the peace of sleep. Admittedly, I typically wake a little cranky, still wanting more sleep and to remain in the freedom of the night, without the responsibilities I hold by day. I have a 7 year old daughter, 2 dogs (1 of them an energetic puppy), multiple jobs, property to take care of, and all the chores/duties of an adult in American culture. Still I wake early to tend to me and have been for 25 years. My higher self knows that when I tend to my needs at the beginning of the day, I am able to bring my best self into the world. I often compare it to tuning an instrument before playing it. We know that the wisdom traditions around the world recognize the early morning as the most conducive for meditative endeavors. A wise qigong teacher of mine once shared that morning practices are more beneficial than sleep (a hard truth when the alarm goes off). There is a tangible shift in the tendency for martyrdom when personal needs are met before serving others.

After morning meditation, I drink tea while reading or writing, it’s my contemplation time. I use this time to indulge in the books that I do not have the bandwidth for after a long day or to write about my feelings in my journal. Having grown up in a Midwestern family that did not talk about their feelings, I learned early on that my journal was a place to explore my emotions and to uncover the messages they were communicating. This brings me to about 7am when my daughter wakes up. Next is one of my favorite times of the morning….snuggling. Typically she opens her bedroom door and loudly says, Mommy! I grab a blanket, greet her with enthusiasm and we snuggle in our breakfast nook. This is a precious time and fleeting, so I make it a high priority to indulge in the cuteness of holding her and smelling her hair as she mumbles into her awake time. At some point, the morning BM calls and it’s time to get my daughter breakfast. This gives way to my stretching practice and morning exercise. These days I alternate between a home video workout for 20 minutes and jogging with the dogs. Then on to breakfast and the business of the day.  I share my routine as one example of how a morning can go. After 16+ years of listening in the clinic, I am well aware that not everyone is a morning person or seeking such an elaborate routine.

However, I can say with conviction, that the manner in which someone awakes into their day matters. We are all familiar with the groggy wake up, shuffle to the coffee pot, and rush out the door version. This is a very common routine for many people and the thought of deviating from it seems radically impossible. The mere suggestion of creating more time for oneself in the morning is often met with resistance and a long list of reasons why this is absolutely not possible. I have come to challenge this in others. Really, there is no way you can make your life more easeful before your day starts? Sometimes a good place to start is by giving yourself an extra 20 minutes to just sit with your coffee or tea and stare out the window or meander around the garden. If doing morning dishes or chores brings you peace, then do it with ease and consider it your morning routine. One important recommendation is to avoid taking in the news and media until you are ready for the “doing” part of your day. Having the mindfulness before bed to put your phone/device on airplane mode and leaving it off until you consciously are ready to engage with the outside world is a huge relief and an often overlooked CHOICE you have. 

This inquiry here is to honestly evaluate how you start your day. Do you start out rushing and in resistance? What can you shift to allow for more ease?  Morning routines are an easy, free, and powerful way to enhance your health and state of wellbeing. I wish this gift for you.

How to Meditate Your Emotions Away

by Ryder Johanson, L.Ac

There’s a growing awareness in our society that stress can wreak havoc on your health.  I’d be surprised to find a single health care provider of any flavor that wouldn’t suggest stress management is an important part of maintaining good health.

Meditation is something I’m seeing more and more health experts recommend as a potent tool for relieving stress.  Many people are aware that it’s hard to beat meditation when it comes to stress relief, but there’s often a hang-up when I suggest that someone try meditation.  The most common response I hear is something along the lines of: “There’s no way I could meditate—my mind is just way too busy.”  Many of these people have even tried meditation before and found it an amazingly frustrating experience because their minds just won’t shut up and the harder they try, the worse it gets.  I can understand, then, why meditation doesn’t seem like the most appealing tool for stress relief.

The funny thing is that that’s kind of the point of meditation: all of your baggage, the things you’ve been avoiding, your suppressed emotions are going to come bubbling up. 

That has definitely been my experience.  When I discovered meditation and was convinced of all the wonderful benefits and experiences that it could open up, I jumped in with both feet and meditated as much as I could.   I thought meditation was a tool I could use to escape all the stressful emotions in my life.  I experienced sublime periods of relaxation and moments when I forgot all my stresses.  And that relaxation often translated into the rest of my day.

But after that initial “honeymoon” period things got a lot harder.  It became more difficult to reach the places in meditation that had come much more effortlessly before.  And the anxiety and agitation bouncing around in my mind seemed to be harder to quiet down—maybe it was growing or maybe I was just becoming more aware of it.  My plan to meditate all my emotions away wasn’t going so well.

I came to realize that the only real way to release stressful emotions was to let myself fully feel them and even express them.  I started to let myself experience the anxiety and frustration of not being able to quiet my mind.  That would lead to memories of other things in my life that would bring up anxiety and frustration.  It started to become easier to express to people in my life the things that were frustrating me.  With that came relief—the relief of getting the weight off my chest—and a sense of empowerment: it was OK for me to stand up for myself and set my boundaries. 

After a while I started to realize that there was more than suppressed anger that was agitating my mind.  Underneath my angry, teenage self was a sad, fearful, ashamed childhood version of myself—some would call it my “inner child”.  And it was wounded.  I always knew it was there, but it was something I had rejected because it was too painful to experience. 

I was blown away at how powerful it was to let myself remember and re-experience all those childhood traumas and have it be OK that I was afraid and hurt.  And despite what I had previously expected, I didn’t wallow in depression and self-pity for weeks on end.  Letting myself fully experience those painful emotions started to neutralize the “charge” they had in my mind.

I’ve learned that this is a common experience among meditators.  After the initial peaceful and even blissful experiences in meditation, there comes a time when all of the painful thoughts and emotions you’ve suppressed come up to be felt and integrated into the new “you” you’re becoming.  St. John of the Cross called it the “dark night of the soul.”

Meditation didn’t turn out to be the totally relaxing and blissed-out experience I expected, but it’s also turned out to be better than I expected.  More and more I’m finding relief from stress not by avoiding it or through coping mechanisms (which even some forms of meditation can be), but by addressing the thoughts and the emotions underlying the stress.  It’s part of what people are talking about when they say there’s “no way around your problems but through them.”

Playing the Game

 
by Clark Zimmerman, L.Ac.

One of the first games that my daughter learned to play was Candyland.  She could sit for hours picking cards and moving around the board; she loved the colors and the pictures of sweets.  Unlike most people who play board games, she didn’t know that the object was to get to the gingerbread house and “win”.  In fact, if she were nearing the end of the rainbow path, she would start to get worried that the game would soon be over. She would get excited if she drew the Candy Cane or Gingerbread card that took her back to the beginning.  She simply loved playing the game.

    Sometime in our childhoods, most of us start to get more competitive.  Maybe it is an offshoot of evolution.  For millennia, the winner in the game of life got to survive and pass on their genes, whereas the loser would perish.  Whatever the reason, at some point we typically begin playing more to win than to enjoy the game.  While there is nothing wrong with wanting to win, a lot of times we come up on the losing side of the game.  If we happen to lose, does that take all of the fun out of the time we spent playing the game?  If so, it seems that the game would appear to be a waste of time.
 
    This makes me think of playing cards–I used to play a lot of cards.  One of my favorite games was Euchre, which is a game similar to Bridge.  In my 20s, I used to take it pretty seriously.  My friends and I would have Euchre tournaments in which the prize was bragging rights.  Some of the games got really heated.  I remember getting upset when my partner didn’t play the right strategy, or when the cards wouldn’t fall my way.  Eventually I began to see the absurdity in this approach to the game.  When I became less attached to winning a funny thing happened: instead of having the overall quality of my night depend on what the scorecards read, I began to enjoy the conversation more. I started to enjoy the company more.  I even began cheering on my opponent when he got a really good hand or made an especially good play of the cards.  My ability to have fun on Euchre nights was greatly improved.  

    This is similar to life in general.  We often think of “winning” as finishing or succeeding.  We may think that we will win once we reach retirement, or when we finally purchase that certain car.  When we orient ourselves towards such goals, we look so far ahead that we miss the moment. Though it can be helpful to have goals, we must be careful not to define happiness or success by these measurements alone.  If we forget that the present moment is all we truly have, we are constantly motivated by our clinging to the past or desire for a certain future.  This is a recipe for suffering.  Sometimes things go the way we want them to go, sometimes they do not.  It is often the case that even when we get to the goal that we have dreamed about, whether we retire or get that dream car, the “success” that we experience eventually seems hollow or less grand than we imagined it would be.  When we untether our happiness from a certain outcome we allow the fullness of life to express itself in beautifully unexpected ways.  We make it less about winning and more about enjoying the game. Then the real winner is the one who has the most fun.  The real winner is the one who fully plays the game.

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