Author Archives: Loren Hadassah

28 Day Powered By Heart Challenge

In October of 2013, in the days prior to my 39th birthday, I declared that 39 would be my Year of Fear. As you can imagine, I got some funny looks. My intent was to find joy and excitement in facing my fears, but truthfully, it sounded kind of awful even to me. Now that my year is up, I’ll tell you this, I feel happier, more sense of possibility, and more capable than I have in what feels like a very long time.

Throughout my adult life I tended towards low-level anxiety when busy, which was a lot of the time. The anxiety was just enough to get me out of bed in the morning. That little bit of buzzing nerves fueled my ability to get a lot done. I would describe myself as happy and busy. But things intensified greatly when, 9 months before declaring my Year of Fear, my mother passed away. She left this plane sooner than I was ready to say my goodbye. Life began to feel hard. Money was tight. I felt an underlying fear and anxiety as though the rug had been pulled out from under me and it could happen again at any moment. I was on constant alert. I wasn’t sleeping well.

So began my Year of Fear. I committed to face one fear a month until my 40th birthday. In the process of facing those fears I began to study my physical, emotional, and mental response to fear. Biologists tell us that stress induces our autonomic nervous system to switch us from a state of rest and digest to fight, flight, or freeze. What I began to notice is that, even at my most restful state, I felt the buzzing of nerves and an antsy desire to constantly move. Emotionally, I was more short-tempered than usual. Beneath that, I was afraid and sad. My thoughts were egging me on with a sense of urgency and I was looking for worst-case scenarios at every turn. I was not returning to a state of rest and digest. If facing my fears was going to be fun and exciting, something had to change.

And then it struck me. My entire experience and perception was through the lens of my nervous system. I am a fleshy, fluid filled body. I am made up of so much more than wiry nerves, but all I could feel was the influence of their buzzing. As a Somatic Psychotherapist and a student of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, the founder of Body Mind Centering, I know that each body system has a consciousness of it’s own. And so I posed the question: Can I consciously put my attention into another part of my being and change my perception and experience? I’ll skip ahead and let you know that, for me, the answer is a resounding Yes!

I chose to focus on my heart and circulatory system. Who am I when my attention is situated in my heart? Can I allow my actions to be propelled by my beating heart as opposed to my buzzing nerves? I mean this in a very practical sense, not just the spiritual or New Age intention of being heart-centered. In our early development as a fetus our arms literally grow as buds out of the heart. They are a direct extension of the heart. I began a practice of finding the feeling of my heartbeat inside my chest. I attempted to feel blood being pumped away from my heart via a system of arteries to the extremities of my body and returned through my veins. I moved through a gentle yoga practice allowing my movement to be propelled by the blood that flowed through me.

It’s my desire through writing and teaching this practice that each of us have the opportunity to find our own answer to the question: Who do I become when my attention is situated in my heart? I believe that we are all unique and our answers may vary. What I can say, for me, is that my energy, emotions, and thoughts clearly change when I am in this practice.

Which brings me to the 28 Day Powered By Heart Challenge.

As we move into the month of February I am committing to this practice daily and I invite my community to join me. To make it easy I’m attaching a link for a 12 minute guided meditation into our heart and circulatory system. Feel free to use it or share your own practice.

It’s important to acknowledge that, that this practice can be powerful. If you, like me, have gone through busy times where you’re not attending to the emotions on your heart, you may find that your feelings are particularly strong. If this is this case, know that you are not alone. It can be very helpful to do this work with another. Please reach out. Let me know if you have any questions and I’m glad to schedule a Somatic Coaching session in person or via Skype to support you in your process.

Let’s find out who we become when our attention is situated in the space of our hearts! I’d love to hear about your experiences so please share here!

Here’s the meditation link: http://lorenhadassah.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Heart-Meditation.m4a

 

 

 

Roller Coaster Fears

Make Fear a Resource: Befriending Roller Coaster Fears

As a therapist I am blessed with the opportunity to witness the great healing that comes from, sometimes, major tragedies. One such moment was with a young girl I’ll refer to as Sara, who survived a life-threatening trauma. In the months following the event, Sara experienced heightened anxiety and we spent many sessions developing body practices to reduce her symptoms while addressing the root fears that the traumatic experience evoked in her being. For a time, she was constantly nervous and afraid. A year into her therapy she arrived in my office filled with excitement. She had just returned from her first trip to Disneyland and enthusiastically filled me in on all the details. Her story culminated in a crescendo as she described the terror of riding Space Mountain, a rollercoaster that is surrounded in darkness with only flashes of light. She leaned forward, speaking quickly and waving her hands as she told me how scary it was with great excitement.

As Sara’s story slowed I reflected, ‘you were terrified and it was fun?’

‘Yes!’ and she again described what made it so exciting.

‘So you were scared and it was fun?’ I asked again.

‘Yes’ she responded more calmly this time as she caught on. This was the first time since the traumatic moment she had survived that she had experienced fear and found it fun.

This was a huge turning point in Sara’s healing and she gifted me several insights. The first is that the physical sensations of excitement are very similar to the physical symptoms of fear and anxiety. This makes sense because both the sensations of fear and sensations of excitement occur from a response in our nervous systems.

Months earlier, when Sara was ready, she began to describe to me the details of her trauma. As she spoke, she practiced going slowly and stopping to describe the sensations she was experiencing. Sara described feeling her heart race, a buzzing in her arms and legs, a strong desire to run from the room, and difficulty focusing. She was intensely afraid. We coined this experience a Life and Death Fear. At the time of the event she was in danger and her fear was unfortunately warranted.

As Sarah retold her experience on the roller coaster, she described the sensations that arose. This time she felt her heart race, a buzzing in her arms and legs, a strong desire to wave her arms and hands, to jump up and down, to yell, and difficulty focusing. The major difference between this and her experience with trauma was that she knew she was safe and therefore felt excited. We coined this experience a Roller Coaster Fear.

Often times the focus of my work is guiding people to decipher the difference between our Roller Coaster Fears and Life and Death Fears. For those of us who have experienced a traumatic event as Sara did, or have a collection of ongoing, unnerving or traumatic experiences, it can become increasingly difficult to tell the difference between these types of fears. We begin to lose our ability to befriend and manage our Roller Coaster Fears. And this is too bad, because if we have a desire to expand, to heal old wounds, and to grow then we are likely to challenge ourselves with those Roller Coaster Fears. In my practice I work with several entrepreneurs who constantly live at the edge of fear. The appropriate amount of fear keeps us enlivened and active. Our buzzing nerves get us out of bed and help us get our tasks done. But when we mistake this sensation for Life and Death Fears our anxiety begins to feel out of control.

So how do we befriend our fears and use them to our benefit? The first step is calming our nerves when anxiety is beginning to overwhelm us. Here are a few basic somatic strategies. The key is to find what works for you, so try them out and see what you notice.

  1. Long Exhale Breathing. Bring your attention into your breath. Give yourself a moment or two just following your natural breath. Then begin a count so that your exhale is twice as long as your inhale. You can try inhaling for a count of 3 and exhaling for a count of 6. If that’s easy, extend the inhale for 4 and the exhale for 8. Repeat the breath for at least 10 rounds. If you get distracted, start over.

Why This Works: There are two reasons the long exhales have an impact. The first is that when we’re anxious or upset we tend to breath short and fast with more of an inhale than an exhale. Over time we consistently take in more than we let go. This breath helps to remedy that by having us consciously let go more than we take in. The second is that those long exhales have our belly begin to draw in and up and make contact with the vagus nerve. That little bit of contact sends a message to our pituitary gland that you’re safe and it’s ok to rest and relax. For more information on the vagus nerve go here: http://www.gaiamtv.com/article/wake-your-vagus-nerve-and-heal-your-body

  1. Self-Massage and Body Contact. Bring your attention into your breath. Start with your hands, holding them and then gently squeezing and massaging each hand. Move up and down each arm simply squeezing as you go. You can speak to yourself as you go, just reminding yourself that, right now, you’re ok, your safe, you feel scared and it’s ok. Feel your breath. And continue the gentle pressure and squeezing down your torso, to your belly, down each leg. You can add a little more pressure by rubbing. Come back up your body getting your neck, head, and placing your warmed hands on your face. I like to finish with a soft pull on my ears.

Why This Works: Similar to the previous exercise, this one speaks directly to our nervous system. Our peripheral nervous system is made up of nerves and ganglia that expand outside our brain and spinal chord. They reach out to the extremities of our body and send messages back and forth with the brain. As you gently make contact through self-massage, you are, again, sending a message that you are safe and it’s ok to rest and relax. You are also making clear the boundary between where you end and the outside world begins, separating yourself from emotions and energies that are not yours. Skin to skin contact is essential for promoting appropriate behavior and emotional and social intelligence. Self-massage is a tactile practice that comes directly from Brain Dance, a movement practice designed directly for the brain with the intent of improving focus and connection. For more information on Brain Dance go here: http://creativedance.org/about/braindance/

  1. Butterfly Hug & Visualization. Find a comfortable seated position and bring your attention into your breath. Cross your arms over your chest, so that the tip of the middle finger from each hand is pointing towards your face and your hands cover the top of your chest. Interlock your thumbs. Continue to take deep breaths and slowly tap each hand back and forth 8-10 times. When you are completed, return to your breath and notice how you are feeling. Take another breath and begin tapping again. Repeat the whole process 3-5 times. You can use this technique to build your sense of security and ease by adding a visualization. Bring to mind a happy moment when you felt safe, supported, joyful, or loved. Can you recall what you saw, who was there, how you felt? When you have them moment clearly held in your mind, take a full breath and begin tapping your hands back and forth 8-10 times. Take a moment to notice your experience and repeat the process 3-5 times.

Why This Works: The Butterfly Hug was developed as a self-soothing technique by Lucina Artigas while working with survivors of Hurricane Pauline in Acapulco, Mexico in 1998. It has since been included in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. One reason why this works is called the orienting reflex. Our nervous systems have a natural tendency to orient to new stimuli. If you are feeling anxious and your mind is spinning on a particular story, the Butterfly Hug provides a new stimulus through your tapping, that your mind can’t help but focus on. It brings you out of the anxiety and into the here and now. For more information on the Butterfly Hug go here: http://saferelationshipsmagazine.com/the-butterfly-hug

 

 

 

 

all you need is love

All You Need is Love

It seems the Beatle’s were really on to something when they released All You Need is Love. Studies are showing that simply viewing an image that projects a feeling of love allows us to handle perceived threats with more ease. Consider that if you start your day by looking at a picture or video, or even just bring a memory into your minds eye that allows your heart to open to the sensation of love, even for the briefest moment, your nervous system will remain more calm as challenges arise.

Check out this report for more information:

Brain’s Response To Threat Silenced When We Are Reminded That We Are Loved And Cared For.

Open Your Heart, Quiet Your Mind

One of the most challenging symptoms of anxiety and depression, or just managing the chaos of an ordinary day for that matter, are the barrage of thoughts talking and sometimes yelling inside our heads. It may start with an ongoing ‘to do’ list: call so and so, pick up the laundry, change the oil in the car, and on and on.  On it’s own, this can be stress inducing, but when anxiety, depression, or anger intensify, so do the thoughts. If you have ever caught yourself berading yourself with statements like: I’m a failure, I’m hopeless, you don’t do anything right, you’re ugly; then this is for you.

The reality is there are several ways to address that harsh voice within who insists on scolding us with a slew of negative beliefs. I work with my own from two directions. One is to take note of some of the core negative beliefs I hold and consciously choose a more acceptable belief that still feels true. You can refer to the previous blog on Tapping to explore how you might strengthen your ability to embody these beliefs.

A second way, and the focus of this blog, is to take our attention out of the brain and our thoughts and into another part of the body. As a Somaticist, I have spent countless hours exploring the ways my thoughts and emotions shift simply based on where, in my body, I place my attention. You may have found certain schools of thought that provide a body map of our emotions pinpointing where we hold anger, sadness, or joy. These provide a good starting point if you are wanting direction, however I encourage my clients to put the map aside and see for yourself. After years of exploring myself and sitting with others, I’ve come to trust in our own unique experiences. I don’t believe that there is one way that emotions are held within our bodies. I do believe that if you’re willing to explore and practice you may be surprised by what you find and you may just quiet that monkey mind of yours, at least for a few minutes.

The following link, Heart Meditation 2, is for a guided meditation into the space of your heart. You can practice this meditation sitting up or lying down. Set yourself up in a supported position you can hold comfortably for about 10 minutes. Pay attention to how you feel as you begin. Note the pace of your thoughts, your emotions, and any sensations that stand out. You may want a journal or notebook to record your experience, noting again how you feel at the end of the meditation. Are you able to drop into the experience of your heart? Note the pace of your thoughts, your emotions, and any sensations that stand out now. Please know that there is no ‘right’ or expected way to feel at the close of this meditation. The intent is that you soften into your body experience and your emotions, and that will likely look different for each of us. It may also change each time you delve into this meditation.

I love to hear your experiences so please report back! What’s the experience in your heart?

If you’d like to delve deeper into this work I have just opened up an extra day and am accepting new clients. You can come to my San Francisco based office or meet via Skype.

Help Your Body Work For You

Emotional Freedom Technique, or tapping, combines acupressure with the therapeutic use of positive affirmations to calm the nervous system and ease overwhelming emotions. While I haven’t yet discovered the magic wand to heal all of our wounds and fix the challenges we face, I do know that our bodies are equipped to support us. Sometimes, what we need is the right to tool to help us take conscious lead of of how our bodies are working for us.

Here’s the link to an article on Emotional Freedom Therapy describing the technique so you can practice at home. http://spiritualityhealth.com/articles/tapping-technique

Feel free to send me questions or come in and we’ll try it together. And when you do try it, let me know how it goes!

Kicking the Anxiety Habit: Attuning to Gratitude

In my previous post I introduced a first step to Kicking the Anxiety Habit with a meditation aimed at bringing ease and calm. When anxiety intensifies, our nervous system kicks into high gear, as if we are in a life threatening situation. There are times when this is, of course, critical, but what we’re focusing on here are those times when our life circumstances are challenging and not life threatening. Times when it would behoove us to think clearly and act consciously, but instead we continue to return to the habit of anxiety. When this is true for you, it is absolutely necessary to develop practices that speak directly to your nervous system, sending a message that you are safe and not in need of a fight, flight, or freeze response. For most of us, kicking the anxiety habit will require a consistent commitment to a practice of ease, working as a constant reminder that you are OK and can slow down and choose how to respond.

The second step to Kicking the Anxiety Habit is attuning to gratitude. This step trains us to transform our thoughts and strengthen inner resources. When caught up in anxiety, our thoughts often spin out of control on themes that don’t serve us. We might continue an argument searching for the perfect words to prove a point or fantasize about worst case scenarios as though they’ve already come to pass. When our thoughts are spinning like this, the physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety can skyrocket.

The good news is that, even though anxiety can seem to be inevitable or out of our control, we have the ability to transform this entire sequence of events. It takes determination and commitment. It is absolutely not easy. And it is doable and transformational. Are you willing?

If so the next step is attuning to gratitude. Just as anxious thoughts will shorten our breath, send our hearts racing, and our muscles into action, thoughts of gratitude cause breath to deepen, hearts to open, and muscles to relax. We instigate feelings of pleasure simply by focusing on gratitude. We know that our thoughts shape our bodies, so this part of the work is about attuning our thoughts towards a relaxed, happy, and courageous body.

When put into words, it seems so simple, yet as so many of us know, the practice of attuning to gratitude can feel terribly difficult. When life is truly challenging and we really don’t know how we’re going to get through challenging circumstances, it may seem like there is nothing there to be grateful for. This is when we have to go for the most simple things. Even in the most challenging times, there are tiny, brief moments of pleasure worthy of gratitude. It might be the comfort felt when a stranger smiles our way, the excitement felt when the perfect parking spot is available in a busy city neighborhood, or the warmth of sunshine on our face after a bout of rain.

One of the most humbling experiences in my life was witnessing women in The Democrat Republic of Congo, living amidst an ongoing war, express gratitude for each other, for their doctors, and for the joy they felt singing and dancing in a community of women. There is the potential of both pain and joy within each of us and this practice is about strengthening the experience of joy. In the next step of this series, I will focus on the reality of our life situations and the mix of emotions that arise. We focus on gratitude first because it is a resource that will allow us to acknowledge more painful feelings without getting stuck.

I want to take a moment to explore what it means to be in a practice of gratitude. What I want for you is to have an experience of surrendering into gratitude in such a way that you feel a change in your body, your emotions shift, and you evoke thoughts that are kind and perhaps even hopeful.

Begin your practice by tuning into your breath. See if you can feel the rise and fall of each breath, slowly deepening inhales and exhales. Then bring to your minds eye a moment you have gratitude for. Put yourself back into that moment. What did you see or hear in that moment? Was there a smell or a taste? How did your body respond? Can you feel your breath, your heart beat, your muscles? And what emotions were evoked? Breath this moment in and exhale it out. Stay with it until you feel yourself soften fully into the moment, and then take another breath. Let it wash over you. Now see if there is another moment you can attune to and repeat the process. Continue until you are complete.

This practice is best when done daily. When we consistently attune to feelings of gratitude, it becomes easier for our thoughts to simply return here of their own accord. I often suggest beginning or ending your day by breathing in your gratitudes. You can simply bring them to your minds eye, you can use a journal, or, one great and free resource is this program that sends the question daily to your email inbox: What are you grateful for? To kick start your practice, go to grateful160.com!

I’m looking forward to hearing your gratitudes! The practice intensifies when it is witnessed so post them here or come in for a face to face somatic session.

Kicking the Anxiety Habit: A Practice of Ease

One of the most prevalent challenges I witness as a Somatic counselor is anxiety. I’ve heard it described as a constant state of urgency, difficulty relaxing, difficulty sleeping, the sense that something bad is about to happen, shortness of breath, a racing heart beat, racing thoughts, jittery muscles, over eating, under eating, stomach pains, headaches and as panic attacks, to name just a few common symptoms. We live in a fast paced world. We hold down jobs, run businesses, and maintain creative projects while trying to nurture relationships, raise children and care for our homes. It’s no wonder that so many of us exhibit and describe the experience of anxiety. Most often, I witness a heartfelt desire to slow down, to savor the beauty of what is had, and yet there is often a lack of knowing, or more truly a forgetting, of how to do just that.

To holistically heal the impacts of anxiety, it’s helpful to explore our individual experiences of it physically, mentally, and emotionally. Each of us is unique, so, the roots of our anxiety differ and we may be attracted to different tools for healing. Fortunately, there are many out there.

In this first blog on anxiety, I’m focusing primarily on a physical exploration. Anxiety lives in the body, so it’s no surprise that one of the best routes towards easing its impacts is through the body. There are a wide variety of physical exercises and meditations out there that are known to have positive effects on easing anxiety and increasing agility and calm. You can learn them by studying yoga, tai chi, or aikido, in a meditation group or by receiving massage. You can practice them with a Somatic Counselor like myself. And you can practice on your own.

What’s most important, if you’re truly ready to kick the habit of worry and fear, is to come with a sense of curiosity and a commitment to practice. If you are ready to live with more ease and courage, then here is one opportunity to develop practices that do just that. Overtime, I will offer a variety of exercises on this site as audio or video. My intent is that this work is an exploration. You get to try out different styles. Some are focused on the breath, on different muscle groups, on the heart and so on. As you go, you begin to find what works best for you and you create your own healing regimen.

This first one is based in the breath and particularly in the lungs. So often, as our days are busy and we are trying so hard to keep up, our breath fills only the top and front part of our lungs in our upper chests. Our lungs are actually a spongy organ that fill up much of the inside of our ribs. At our backs, they meet our scapula bones. They reach down to the diaphragm at about our lowest front ribs. Our lungs hold closely to either side of the heart, as though giving a hug. Use your hands feel around this space. Allow yourself to note the physicality and fullness of your lungs inside your upper torso.

The following link is a 10 minute guided meditation aimed at softening into the backs of our lungs. Find a quiet spot to explore freely.

Kicking the Anxiety Habit 1: Back of the Lungs Breathing

Feel free to leave questions or feedback. And, most of all, may you find a moment of calm.

Spring Blooms!: Find calm and open to possibility

Spring is blooming in San Francisco! The sun is shining, temperatures are warming, and flowers are blossoming. For many of us this comes as a relief after a cold, rainy winter. There is a new sense of possibility as our pores stretch open to soak in the sun and limbs reach out with newfound vitality

And…this transition can also emit a frenetic buzz. If you did not achieve a sense of rest during this Winter’s hibernation or if the transition to Spring happens too quickly, you may experience a period of increased anxiety that impacts your thoughts and permeates your physical being.

If this is the case, you’re not alone. In this season of rebirth when life can be busy and stressful, our work is to deepen our commitment to practices that keep us steady and centered in our beings. When anxiety builds, our nervous system runs on overdrive. Nerves buzz throughout our body. Breath speeds up. Heart rates increase. Muscles become jittery and want to move. Thoughts spin frantically. It can be difficult to sit still and difficult to focus.

To decrease these symptoms and find steadiness we must work directly with our bodies. Each of our unique bodies will respond to the right movement for ourselves, and sometimes differently from day to day, so this work can often be a matter of experimentation. Sometimes, meeting our increased internal pace with cardio vascular activities is helpful. If we match the speedy pace of our breath and hearts by running, or biking, or walking fast, or dancing, or swimming we can often titrate out bodies back down to a slower pace.

Breathing techniques are instrumental in calming the nervous system. My favorite is to practice extended exhale breathing. Start by taking an inhale and counting to 3, then exhale counting to 6. If this is easy, you can increase the count to 4 and 8. Continue this for at least 10 breaths and just notice what happens when you are able to hold your focus.

One of my favorite practices has evolved from my study of Body-Mind Centering and Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. It’s a Somatic meditation focusing on our skeletal body. Our bone structure forms the blue print of our physical form. The size and shape of our bones and the different ways they connect within joints defines our capacity for movement. Our skeletal body is a map that unveils all potential movement and embodiment. Bringing our consciousness into the bones provides an opportunity to release fears and inhibition and to return simply to this place of potential.

Following are some basic guidelines for this practice. Take as long as you want with each step. Let these be tips for entering your own body and feel free to follow your intuition.

If you are new to this type of practice it can be helpful to practice within a safe container with someone you trust witnessing and guiding. If you’re interested in individual or group work feel free to contact me directly. Individual work can happen both in person or via Skype.

Here’s to a blooming Spring filled with possibility and play!

Loren

Embodying the Skeletal Body

(Remember that this practice is simply an exploration into yourself. There is no right way to do it and no expected outcome. Your opportunity is to notice whatever is here and whatever arises. Have a journal near so you can take note of whatever arises. And…Have fun!)

Find a comfortable position where you feel alert and supported in your body.

Begin by taking account of where you are starting from. Some questions to consider are:

* What is the pace of your thoughts? What sort of thoughts are running through your mind? Are they scattered and jumping or are you honing in on something in particular?

* What is the quality of your breath? What is the pace of each breath?

* Can you feel your heart beating within the space of your lungs?

* Do your muscles squeeze to bone? Do they soften into your seat?

 

* What emotion(s) are most present right now if you’re being totally honest with yourself?

 

Now bring your attention, your awareness into your bones. It can be helpful to look at the picture of the skeleton, to see the names of the bones and to envision them, each one, alive in your body.

 

Allow yourself to move from your skeletal body. Notice how your skull stands aloft. Notice how your sternum, your chest lifts. Find the humerus bone in your arms and notice it’s range of movement reaching out from the scapula. Notice how the metacarpals bend at each tiny joint allowing your fingers to reach and stretch and squeeze. Notice the fluidity of your spinal column made up by each vertebrae linked together. Stretch your femur bone in the thigh out from the pelvic bowl. Explore your skeletal body with a sense of awe and curiosity. Move in anyway your are called allowing the movement to begin with the bones of your body.

 

Use your breath. With each inhale, imagine your bones expanding opening to take in oxygen. Notice their porous nature and allow them to reach and stretch.

 

What are the sounds that arise from your bones? Can you allow that sound to ripple out with freedom. Does the sound differ from different parts of your skeletal body?

 

In this place of your skeletal body, when you’re fully settled here, what do you notice? What sensations arise? What thoughts or images or memories drift across your minds eye? What emotions are most present?

 

When you’re ready to come to a close, take a moment to ground your experience. Bring your attention back into your breath. Allow yourself to feel the fullness of your body beyond your bones. Feel the air on your skin. Take in the sounds and scents and colors around you. Take a moment to note what you have experienced in a journal so that you ground this new knowing into your being, whatever it is.

 

And, finally, take a moment of gratitude for the consciousness and wisdom held in your bones.