The Transpersonal Way

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Healthy Spirituality/Transpersonal Psychology by Dorian Martin for Jennyoga

Can spirituality be good for your health? The answer, according to many researchers, turns out to be, “Yes!”

Transpersonal Psychology, an approach that emerged in the late 1960s, suggests that nurturing and developing spirituality and awareness can help individuals develop greater physical and mental health as well as a deeper personal understanding of themselves. This type of psychology marries a number of approaches and disciplines, including cognitive psychology, humanistic psychology, behaviorism, Eastern philosophy, Western philosophy, mysticism, mindfulness and multiple elements from the world’s various religions.

A Path to Transformation

This psychological approach can help a person transform his/her life. Transpersonal psychology is rooted in the idea that people who are in any form of relationship have a space between them. That space includes a profound spiritual “something” that influences each person, thus causing changes in each party in the relationship.  Each person begins to dwell less on the day-to-day efforts to take care of basic human needs and instead adopts a transcendent approach that takes into account others as well as the universe as a whole. This form of psychology encourages inner peace, trust, a feeling of being fully alive, selfless service and compassion.

Practices such as prayer, meditation, yoga and Qigong can help individuals achieve this state of transcendence. Furthermore, incorporating these practices into a daily routine can lead to real health benefits. For instance, some researchers suggest that transpersonal experiences are tied to optimal mental health. Not surprisingly, this approach can help individuals who are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism and grief or who are considering suicide. Researchers also have found that these types of transpersonal practices can help people who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure.

A Bond to Nature

A practice of transpersonal psychology often involves spending time in nature, which is considered a key factor for optimal health. One study found that prolonged wilderness trips that include natural history as well as solitary time can lead to peak or mystical experiences in both adults and adolescents. This immersion into nature helped many participants’ identify a different way of thinking about the world and their own surroundings. An analysis of these individuals’ journal entries suggested that they started to develop more satisfying responses to day-to-day opportunities and challenges after their experiences on these trips.

Primary Sources for This Blog:

Davis, J. (2004). Psychological Benefits of Nature Experiences: An Outline of Research and Theory with Special Reference to Transpersonal Psychology. Naropa University and School of Lost Borders.

McKeown, P. (1996). Transpersonal Psychology Provides Health Benefits. NewsOK.com.

Tartakovsky, M. (2011). 6 Facts About Transpersonal Psychology. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 19, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/11/03/6-facts-about-transpersonal-psychology/

When Hearts Speak

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By Dorian Martin for Jennyoga 

Is it better to speak from the head or from the heart? Research suggests that the latter may offer some real benefits at the individual, familial and societal levels. 

A Different Approach to Communicating

Also known as Nonviolent Communication or Compassionate Communication, heart-based communication is grounded in the concept that people are compassionate by nature. However, during their lifetime, many people may have moved the locus of their communication from the heart to the head.

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, who developed the Nonviolent Communication approach, believes that many people are taught early in their lives to speak from their head. This approach often involves subjective judgments (right vs. wrong, attractive vs. ugly, good vs. bad) as well as demands for specific action based on the listener’s guilt, shame or fear. Head-based communication can lead to defensiveness, resistance and fighting and can make it difficult for people to live in harmony with one another.

Speaking from the heart offers a viewpoint that is not judgmental. Instead, a person voices what is happening in his or her own life and makes a request (instead of voicing a mandate). This form of communication promotes well-being both for the person who is voicing the statement and the listener. People who use heart-based communication do not place blame on another person; instead, the speaker believes that his own thoughts, wants and wishes are the basis for any feelings of frustration or anger that are being experienced.

In his article for Northwest Compassionate Communication, Dr. Rosenberg offers an example of a mother who wants her child to clean up her toys. He notes that in heart-based communication, the mother would say, “I feel angry because I want the living room to be clean and instead it’s a mess.” She would then ask her child for a different outcome by making a statement such as, “I’d feel so much better if you’d just put these toys away.” This approach runs counter to head-based communication, which might involve the mother saying, “How nice it would have been if you had cleaned the living room last night.”

Research into Nonviolent Communication

Researchers are finding that heart-based communication offers surprising benefits in multiple settings.

– A 2015 study found that the use of parental empathy in a relationship with adolescent children that offers a variety of benefits to both parties. An empathetic approach was significantly associated with an adolescent’s ability to regulate emotions and also lowered markers of systemic inflammation in the teens. Parents who practiced empathy were found to have greater self-esteem and purpose in life (although researchers found that these parents did have higher systemic inflammation).

– Two studies published jointly in 2014 looked at prisoners who had been trained by the Freedom Project in nonviolent communication and meditation. The first study found that prisoners who had received the training were less likely to return to criminal behavior. In the second study, prisoners who were trained in these strategies had improvements in self-reported anger, self-compassion and certain forms of mindfulness. They also showed increased social skills.

– A 2012 study reported that Nonviolent Communication helps participants build trusting personal relationships in on-line mentoring programs. This type of communication helped offset the communication issues such as silence and a limited sensory environment that can hamper the creation of online relationships.

Learning to take a heart-based approach to communication may take some effort since the head-based communication style is so ingrained in U.S. culture. However, learning to speak from the heart offers numerous psychological and physical benefits – as well as the potential for healthier and more collaborative relationships with family members, friends, neighbors and colleagues.

 Sources for This Blog:

Rosenberg, M. (1995). Compassionate Communication. Northwest Compassionate Communication.

The Center for Nonviolent Communication. (ND). NVC Research.

Reversing PTSD with Mindfulness

PTSD BRAIN

By Dorian Martin for Jennyoga

The term post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been in the nation’s vernacular for a while, thanks to movies such as American Sniper, Saving Private Ryan, Born on the Fourth of July, Forest Gump, The Deer Hunter and Coming Home. While these films’ focus on the mental and emotional health of our military veterans is important, PTSD’s grasp actually extends far beyond those tested in war situations.

PTSD’s Prevalence in the U.S.

In fact, approximately 24.4 million Americans suffer from PTSD at any one time, according to PTSD United, Inc. That’s because 70 percent of all U.S. adults have experienced some form of traumatic event – such as rape, child abuse, spousal abuse, violent crime or natural disaster — at least once during their lifetime. Up to 20 percent of these adults will develop PTSD, which involves feeling greater stress or fright even when the person is no longer in danger. And contrary to what popular culture portrays, women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD; approximately one in nine women suffer from this condition.

PTSD and Yoga

While the main treatments include psychotherapy, medication or a combination of both, researchers are starting to find that a regular practice of yoga may benefit people with PTSD. For example, one small study in 2014 evaluated the effect of taking a 10-week trauma-informed yoga class on women who had chronic PTSD that wasn’t responding to treatment. The researchers’ analysis found that participating in this type of yoga statistically reduced PTSD symptoms. In fact, slightly more than half of the women in this study who were in the yoga group no longer met PTSD-diagnosis criteria by the study’s end.

Trauma-informed yoga, which is being pioneered at Houston’s Menninger Clinic, uses specific methods to create a safe environment in which participants make their own choices and, thus, regain control over their own bodies. For instance the teacher does not make hands-on adjustments without getting a participant’s permission since nonconsensual touch can trigger a PTSD episode. Yoga teachers also use specific words – “invited” instead of “instructed” and “form” instead of “pose” – that are more inclusive and less threatening. The classes also do not discuss the actual trauma that triggered the individual’s PTSD.

This approach also has implications for yoga classes that are not specifically tailored for PTSD patients. “When yoga teachers neglect to inform themselves about trauma phenomena they can inadvertently create signals that, to the student who has suffered a traumatic injury, are processed as danger,” Margaret Howard, a human trafficking policy advocate and mental health professional, wrote in a 2013 blog for The HuffingtonPost. “When that happens, the student can become ‘triggered’ — thrown into a physiological response to that perceived danger, because his or her body has been conditioned to respond that way by the traumatic event(s).”  Therefore, yoga instructors should be even more mindful of creating an inviting and safe environment for their students, some of whom may be quietly dealing with PTSD.

Primary Sources for This Blog:

Howard, M. (2013). Part I: Trauma Training Should Be Mandatory for Yoga Teachers. Huffington Post.

InspireMalibu.com. (ND). Here’s a List of 10 Films About PTSD.

Jones, J. (2015). ‘Trauma-Centered Yoga’ Helps Patients With PTSD and Chronic Pain. Houston Chronicle.

National Institute of Mental Health. (ND). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute. (ND). Yoga as a Complementary Treatment for Chronic PTSD.

Gratitude Leads To All Things Great

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By Dorian Martin for Jennyoga

The holiday season often is a time spent expressing gratitude. The season of thanks begins this week as families and friends gather together around the Thanksgiving table to express gratitude. They often cite blessings such as strong familial relationships, good friends, jobs, homes and a sumptuous meal. Many people continue their focus on gratitude through December as part of celebrating the deep traditions of their religious faiths and cultures.

The regular practice of gratitude easily can extend beyond the holiday season and arguably is one that offers an immense return on the minimal time investment that it takes to maintain this practice throughout the year. For instance, researchers link a regular practice of gratitude to numerous emotional health outcomes, including greater happiness, more optimism, a greater appreciation of good experiences and the creation of strong bonds with others. This practice even boosts physical health, including fostering a stronger immune system and lowering blood pressure.

Interestingly, gratitude may come more naturally for some people. In a recent New York Times opinion column, Arthur C. Brooks points to research that indicates a genetic variation is associated with an individual’s ability to feel deeply grateful. However, we can also mindfully cultivate gratitude even if we don’t have a genetic predisposition toward thankfulness.

Developing a Gratitude Practice

Experts suggest a number of strategies that can help foster gratitude. These include:

– Meditation focused on gratitude. Jack Kornfield suggests focusing a meditation practice on gratitude in order to acknowledge the blessings and good fortune in our lives. He encourages individuals to focus their meditation on feeling how “year after year you have cared for your own life” and then think about the other parts of the world –a person, plant, animal or insect — that have enhanced your life. Kornfield notes that an increased focus on gratitude is linked to increased joy and an open heart.

– Write regular thank-you notes. Taking time to write detailed thank-you notes to acknowledge people who make a difference in your life can have a significant impact on happiness levels a month later. Furthermore, the potential health benefits expand if you deliver the letter in person and read it to the recipient. Not surprisingly, sending a thank-you note also can improve and deepen your relationship because the recipient understands his or her value to you.  

– Think about all that you’re grateful for at the end of each day. The Greater Good Science Center recommends spending 5-10 minutes each evening describing three positive things for the day as well as why you think they happened. Researchers have found that doing this exercise for one week leads to greater happiness during the following six months.

– Keep a gratitude journal. Writing in a journal about what you appreciate on a regular basis also can have a significant effect on your quality of life. These entries can include past events as well as anticipation of future blessings.

To achieve long-term health benefits from a gratitude practice, individuals need to make these efforts more than a seasonal occurrence. Incorporating different strategies can help keep your gratitude practice feeling fresh throughout the year – and can make you grateful for the benefits it brings to your life.

Sources for This Blog:

Braines, J. (2015). Four Great Gratitude Strategies. Greater Good Science Center, University of California Berkley.

Brooks, A. C. (2015). Choose to Be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier. New York Times.

Greater Good Science Center. (ND). Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude. University of California Berkley.

Harvard Mental Health Letter. (2011). In Praise of Gratitude.

Kornfield, J. (2014). Meditation on Gratitude and Joy.

Age – It Matters What You Think!

By Dorian Martin for Jennyoga

Western culture often doesn’t paint a pleasant picture of aging. Advertisements focus on incontinence, sexual dysfunction and plastic surgery while actresses are considered “over the hill” by the time they reach their 40s. And when older adults are featured in television shows or movies, their characters usually are used for some level of comic relief through showcasing their physical or mental decline.

Those cultural norms may have an even more devastating effect than we realize since researchers increasingly are finding that our views of aging influence how we physically and mentally age. In fact, The Wall Street Journal recently published an article that noted that if we think of aging as a time of decline, our health will follow suit. However, our bodies will respond with vigor if we believe that aging offers new adventures and opportunities to grow. In her recent book, “Goddesses Never Age,” Dr. Christiane Northrup noted that studies show that our perceptions of aging can have a greater effect on our longevity than low cholesterol, low blood pressure, low body mass index and not smoking.

So what are some of the ways you can counter aging? Here are three easy ways to fight this battle:

– Be aware of cultural messages about aging. Dr. Northrup recommends identifying and closing all cultural portals that disparage aging in order to embrace new ways to remain ageless. Her advice ranges from rejecting a merchant’s senior discount to reviewing one’s self-talk in order to root out disparaging thoughts and comments about aging.

– Embrace meditation and mindfulness. A blog by Seth Segall and David S. Black for the American Society on Aging points to studies indicating meditation and mindfulness affect how people age. For instance, a mindful practice is proven to aid people suffering from pain or depression; this practice also improves brain and immune system function. Furthermore, meditation reduces age-related decline in several parts of the brain, including the cerebral cortex, gray matter and white matter. Mindfulness and meditation also has been linked to longer telomeres, which are segments at the end of chromosomes that become shorter with age and chronic stress. Scientists use these telomeres as biomarkers for cellular aging. The best news is that researchers now believe that meditation may not only slow the aging process, but even be able to reverse these declines at both the neurological and chromosomal level.

– Focus on balance. Many people find they lose their sense of balance as they age. One of the reasons is an impaired vestibular system. To counter this issue, Dr. Northrup recommends regularly standing on one leg while closing your eyes, and then repeating this exercise on the other leg. Practices such as tai chi, Qigong and yoga also can enhance balance.

While aging is a natural part of life, much of what we experience is based on our own state of mind. By changing our mental patterns and embracing a few new habits, we can take charge of how we age and make strides toward becoming ageless.

Primary Resources:

Northrup, C. (2015). Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Well-Being. Hay House.

Segall, S. & Black, D. S. (2014). Can Meditation Slow the Aging Process? American Society on Aging.

Tergesen, A. (2015). To Age Well, Change How You Feel About Aging. The Wall Street Journal.

To My Best Friend – a poem by Christine Pfeffer

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Jennifer Buergermeister

I don’t know how it feels to be you
and when you come to me seeking comfort
I promise I won’t act like I do
of if you shout at me in anger
rooted from the pain of so much we do in vain
I will step into your worn shoes
and be there to hear your heart speak out
As it seeks to try and understand why
Why so much pain in the world…in our hearts?
How can you help? How can I help?
How can WE help ease the sorrows that flow so effortlessly through the currents of our minds?
Drowning out the pleasing, the happy & the positivity
that yearns to reach out into the world
and lift the spirits of all who suffer
of all who store this dismay deep inside the soul…
Our soul…the collective soul
contained…not contained
here
on this planet…in our hearts
that…

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Our Savior IS Yoga

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John 14:6 – “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” ~King James Version

Perhaps Jesus (Yeshua) wanted us to understand that he is  “yoga” when he said, the way to the father is through me. I had an epiphany thinking about this tonight! Yeshua was yogic in every way – through his parables, actions, love and universality.

Practicing yoga opens us to The Almighty because it is so breath-centered.

The word “spiritus” means to breathe. The breath is our spirit, and brings life. It awakens us and helps us to remain healthy, calm, and compassionate.

We become awakened to our connection to God by yoking in breath-centered practices – yoga, mindfulness, meditation.  In the experience of anything that brings us into the now, there is an absolute presence of beauty and connection.

Presence is through feeling, not thinking. Thinking is the opposite of focus and can bring us away from being present. Our brains change when we practice presence. With mindfulness, we build the prefrontal cortex and reduce the stress producers in the limbic system, specifically the amygdala.

Yeshua is the embodiment of Christ energy – the universal consciousness that brings all parts of our existence into great meaning and purpose.

The statement could easily read, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Breath.”

💘

Love For Ever – Emuna Where Are You?

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Jennifer Buergermeister

Timing is truly everything. In a world of chaos and order, some things just take time to develop and show up in our lives – the perfect job, the health you aspire to achieve, the love of your life finally arriving. I know it sounds cliche’ but it’s all about faith, or Emuna in Hebrew. It’s a feeling you hold inside without rhyme or reason as your soul speaks through your heart vibrating and signaling similar energy to make its way home.

Faith has its roots in the beginning, when Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden. Understanding the roots of your spirituality can bring you deeper faith and connection to not only the universe and each other, but to ourselves. Faith is a beautiful thing to hold. It can make a difference in how healthy we are mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically.

I suppose with faith naturally comes patience. If you…

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