“Tai Chi can be translated as the ultimate or highest of the martial arts . . . the objectives of Tai Chi include harmony of the mind, promotion of health, and the attainment of rejuvenation and longevity” (Tsung Hwa Jou).
Print Full Article
By Maki Fujisaki Guelcher, Certified Elements of Tai Chi Instructor
Tai Chi, originally developed as a martial art to discipline the bodies, minds and spirits of monks, has been practiced in China for centuries. During the latter part of the 20th century, Tai Chi began to spread to the western world, and evolved from a martial art to a body/mind wellness practice which everyone, young and old, can benefit from.
Tai Chi Classes at CYC
Mazen Tai Chi combines elements of the ancient practices of Tai Chi and Qigong, with slow, graceful movements involving weight shifting in many directions, increasing balance, focus, strength, and joint mobility.
Mindful, slow breathing helps to reduce stress and gain stability in body and mind. This gentle, ongoing class is suitable for all ages and levels of fitness, no previous experience or pre-registration required.
(Beginning July 11 through August 29, Friday classes will be at Hartley Botanica – click here for full Outdoor Summer schedule)
(No class on 8/16 and 9/13 for teacher training)
$15 per class. $10 Senior rate.
Fee is included in Camarillo Yoga 6 month membershipLearn more
Tai Chi increases interoception and proprioception for better balance
Tai Chi is a form of moving meditation. The movements are slow and graceful, with a focus on deep breathing, which increases inner- awareness or interoception- the ability to feel the body from the inside. Focused breathing while moving slowly and mindfully also develops proprioception- the ability to perceive where our body parts are in space. Both of these qualities are necessary for maintenance of healthy posture, and balance, and so tai chi is particularly useful for our middle years and beyond, when these body functions start to change.
Tai Chi builds strength, control, and increases reflex reaction time
Slow sustained standing movements build muscle and bone in legs and hips. Additionally, Tai Chi movements focus on the lower abdomen as center, and require that we practice connecting the lower body to the ground. Movements require shifting weight, and developing connection between the legs and the stabilizing core muscles. Controlling your body is essential in our everyday lives; by controlling the lower body with strong muscles, you gain better control and balance of the upper body.
Tai Chi helps us to be present to the now
Tai Chi is known as a Mindfulness practice, meaning that instead of living in our thoughts, which are often planning for the future, or reliving the past, we are trained to pay greater attention to our bodies and minds on a moment by moment basis. This attention training helps to reduce stress, increase our physical reaction time, and increase emotional stability.
Tai Chi can reduce the likelihood of sudden incidents such as falling.
Dr. Fong and Dr.Ng show in their study in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation that “Long-term Tai Chi practitioners have been shown to have a significantly faster reflex reaction time” (2006). Considering the benefits listed above- greater overall body awareness, core and lower body strength, increased balance and control, and mindful awareness, tai chi is the perfect practice to help prevent sudden incidents like falling.
Tai Chi can help improve high blood pressure and cholesterol
In the Medical Science Monitor, Dr. Ko, Dr.Tsang and Dr. Chan explain: “Tai Chi practice leads to significantly reduced lipid profiles, total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels” (2006). The deep breathing and muscular contraction which is intrinsic to Tai Chi practice leads to increased blood circulation and oxygen flow in the body, improving cardiovascular and respiratory health. For this reason, Tai Chi is recommended for those who have high blood pressure and high cholesterol as a way to improve their health.
Tai Chi helps reduce stress and anxiety
Slow, deep breathing, focusing on the abdominal region during Tai Chi practice helps to reduce a great amount of stress, relaxing the body and releasing emotional tension. It also leads to improved quality of sleep, and more positive mood overall. Recent studies have shown that Tai Chi practice works as an intervention in educational programs or cognitive-behavioral approaches to help people cope with stress. It is now seen as a strategy to improve and reduce emotional distress in such conditions as anxiety, depression, and phobias (2009).
Tai Chi cultivates energy awareness (Chi)for Mind/Body wellness.
The word “chi” means energy. Tai Chi cultivates the life energy inherent in our breath, and gathers chi into our bodies from the energy of nature all around us, to heal and center us, helping us feel at ease and at peace. Dr. Posadzki and Dr.Jacques mention in “Tai Chi and Meditation” that “Tai Chi as a mind-body technique serves to integrate physiological improvements with psychological ones, including improved confidence, quality of life and motivation” (2009).
My experience as a Tai Chi practitioner and teacher is that this practice provides unending opportunity for personal growth. As our bodies become familiar with the movements and breathing, we are able to sink deeper, and experience fully the chi within us, to feel more connected to ourselves, to one another and to the earth that sustains us.
As seen on Natural Yoga Magazine, click to download original article.
By Audrey Walzer, CYC Yoga Teacher; Owner & Director
“Yoga? Oh no, I’m not flexible.” If I’d only heard it once… but a thousand times later I am frustrated that people’s perception of yoga is still based on media images of yoga practice as a bunch of pretzel-like poses done by super bendy women in provocative outfits. This imagery sells products from mattresses to designer water, and yet it keeps the very people who would benefit most from yoga, away from it.
As a yoga and movement teacher for over thirty years, please, please believe me when I say: You don’t have to be flexible to do yoga! In fact, if your muscles are tight due to lots of athletics, sitting at a computer all day, driving, past or current injuries, or simply being a couch potato… yoga can keep you from an almost inevitable visit to the orthopedist’s office one day!
Our bodies were designed to move. As children, we naturally explore the full range of movement nature has given us. Today, even children move less, and teenagers are experiencing back pain in record numbers. As we age, due to lifestyle, time and family constraints, our movements become habituated, lacking variation, and our bodies become imbalanced… often tight in hamstrings, hips and lower back, chest muscles and shoulders. These imbalances, if left unattended, inevitably lead to pain- in the back, in the knees, in the neck, and this can cause us to move less, creating a vicious cycle. Make no mistake, everyone needs to stretch! Just look at an animal waking from sleep- it’s a natural instinct we have forgotten. But once you begin, it feels so good! The secret is this: you need to move your body in a way that serves you, and not try to imitate a bendy-Barbie teacher.
At Camarillo Yoga Center, we are celebrating our 13th year teaching “regular people” of all ages, sizes, shapes and levels of fitness, to rebalance their bodies. With safe yoga practices that bear no resemblance to pretzels, and attention to individual differences, we ease the muscles of the back, hips and legs to alleviate lower back pain, and relieve shoulder and neck tension. We gently stretch tight muscles and strengthen those that are weak and ignored, most often the core muscles that support the lower back. Our goal at Camarillo Yoga is not to tie you into a knot, but instead to untie the knots that you know are there, and the ones you may not even realize are causing you pain or discomfort.
“I tried to stretch; it hurts!” I believe it. A machine that has rusted, no matter how old or new, creaks and groans, but a little oil helps lubricate the parts so they move smoothly. In yoga, as opposed to old-fashioned “reach and bounce” stretching, we use a very special oil can to help your body glide more freely: The Breath. Western medical science confirms that yoga breathing stimulates the vagus nerve to create a “relaxation response” so the “fight or flight” tensing mechanism is disengaged, and the whole body is able to move in a more relaxed, integrated way. Yoga breathing helps us focus, concentrate and let go of the brain chatter that occupies us 90% of the time, so we feel our bodies in ways that keep us safe, and ultimately result in greater range of motion, balance and freedom.
“I don’t have time to go to a yoga class!” Time is the key. How many minutes do you spend at a computer, tightening your neck and shoulders? Our bodies are efficient accountants, and they want to please us. If we spend most of our time holding our bones in positions that shorten our muscles, our accountants will tell the muscle crew to just firm up and hold the bones there permanently. When we finally take that much needed vacation, and tear out our shoulder taking a suitcase from the overhead bin, our accountant is confused. This overhead bone position wasn’t in the plan- the muscles have formed themselves for typing. Ouch! We need to balance the ledger, it’s as simple as that, and denial is a huge factor in the ultimate deterioration of our physical health. So many people come to me for help once back pain is so great they are trying to avoid surgery, or when all the surgeries haven’t helped them feel better… if only they had put in the minutes to rebalance their bodies before pain became the motivator.
My heartfelt suggestion? Put in the minutes toward your own health and freedom now. Open your mind and find out how yoga can significantly change your body balance sheet!
Print Full Article
By Andy Barton, CYC Yoga Teacher and Commercial Airline Pilot
… Ok, now that I have your attention, let me tell you how and why I got into yoga and spell out some of the benefits of adding yoga to your daily routine. My name is Andy Barton and I am a pilot for a major airline. I spent Independence Day, 2005 in the emergency room in agony. In a rush to leave the cramped cockpit of the 737 I had just landed, I swung my heavy navigation bag around, unsafely twisting and straining my back- a stupid but classic mistake for pilots, and our number one “on the job injury.” Back home, missing a month of work while on medication and rest, I was not able to move without pain and definitely nervous that I might never fly again. To top it off, my wife Allison and I had planned our 25th wedding anniversary for over a year—a week at a hiking resort in Canada that cost a fortune, and I was determined not to miss this trip. So, armed with pain medication, off to Canada we went.
After a long painful flight to Spokane, and a four-hour car ride north to the Canadian Rockies, my back was killing me when we arrived and received our schedule. I laughed when I saw that 6 am yoga was the first activity. I whined that no way was I going to be able to do yoga- I couldn’t even bend over to put on my underwear. My wife (an RN) knows me so well that she pushed the right button: “after all, we did pay for it.” So off to yoga I sulked, and who walks into the class but the aforementioned BEAUTIFUL YOGA TEACHER. Oh man, now I really was going to look like a wimp, so I started on the excuses again. Bad idea. Nurse and yoga teacher ganged up on me, and the teacher instructed me on how to modify the practice- to stop if I felt a sharp pain but continue if I felt a stretching sensation. Throughout the class she checked on me and amazingly enough I not only made it through the class but felt a little better.
All stretched out, we loaded up the jeeps and headed for the glaciers. Up and down the mountain I went with a manageable amount of discomfort. No drugs required. That night, I had a massage, and at the end of that day I felt 50% better than I had in the morning before yoga. After four days of yoga and massages, I was feeling so good that I planned to go back to work when we got home. I was “cured”!
My wife, as she often does, knew better. Back at home, she suggested that we continue yoga. I predictably started in on the “I’m good now, I don’t need yoga” routine, and in typical nurse fashion she ignored me and bought yoga mats and a DVD. Here is the problem with a Yoga DVD: If you don’t already know how to do yoga, then a DVD is not a great place to start because the dude on the screen can’t see you and tell you that you’re doing it wrong and that you may either hurt yourself or not get the intended benefit. After two days, I had enough of that. Undeterred, my lovely wife found the Camarillo Yoga Center and spoke to Audrey, the owner. She suggested an entry-level yoga class for beginners. My excuses fell on deaf ears, and I found myself in a room full of people on mats- to my surprise, many of them were guys. The class wasn’t full of pretzel poses, and Audrey helped us both feel comfortable and gave me clear instructions on what I should do to help my back, the big one being to stretch my ridiculously tight hamstrings. Sounded like a good idea, but to my dismay Allison signed us both up for six months of classes right in front of my eyes. Did I mention that she knows me so well that once we paid for the classes she knew I was d…n well going to get my money’s worth? After three months I realized the pain in my back was completely gone. After six months, I did not have any pain anywhere in my body. Ok, so maybe there is something to this yoga stuff.
Now, both Allison and I have been practicing yoga for over eight years, and teaching yoga at Camarillo Yoga Center for six. We are in our mid-50’s and amazed at how we compare with same-age friends in terms of stamina, lack of aches and pains, and other signs of aging. I do yoga on the airplane between flights, and have even shown my flight crews how to stretch. I’m into woodworking, and can spend longer hours on my projects, because I stretch while I work.
Allison and I feel better that at any other time in our lives. My body feels balanced, strong and flexible and my wife has never looked better. Yoga is an activity that couples can do together because you learn to do what your body is calling for. Your spouse and everyone else in the class are all in different places and that’s ok. Success in yoga is defined by showing up to class on your mat and dealing with where you are today.
It took me 45 plus years to get my hamstrings so tight and short that I was getting back pain. It took patience and commitment to free my body of pain. Yoga is not about being super flexible, but about breathing and moving your body to maximize good health and longevity. A consistent yoga practice is not a stand-alone exercise regime but designed to enhance all the other activities in your life, so that you can hike, bike, work in your backyard, or whatever is important to you, pain free, for as long as you can.
Dudes, get over it. Your wife is right. Take it from me, you need to stretch. Go to yoga.
(The Neuroscience Behind Why We Fail, and What to do About it!)
It’s that time of year again, where we announce our grand plans to the world, or keep a little piece of paper hidden under our pillow, then hope and pray that we can live up to our… New Year’s Resolutions!
The results are no surprise. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that six months into the year, fewer than half — 46 percent — of resolvers were still keeping their pledge. In a 2007 study of 3,000 British people, 88% were unable to keep their resolutions.
Should we just end this silly ritual once and for all? Or, let neuroscience help us find a different approach?
Why New Year’s Resolutions are a Great Idea!
Rather than living on autopilot, evaluating how we can grow as human beings helps us live a healthier, more engaged life.
Everyone loves a fresh start, and the New Year is as good a time as any to reflect on what has been serving us well in our lives, and where we can take a positive action to live with even greater fulfillment and meaning.
A resolution gives structure to our intention, and writing it down empowers us further.
Studies show that commitments made actively have more staying power than those made passively.
Our sense of accomplishment builds on itself.
Research shows that as we develop the mental discipline to make a change, or take on something new, the brain’s pre-frontal cortex becomes stronger, enabling us to have greater willpower and focus for the next task.
As we make changes in our lives, we are a model for others, particularly our children.
When our kids see us walk the talk, it empowers them to make positive choices and be patient and persistent in their goals.
Where We Go Wrong with New Year’s Resolutions… and What to Do About it!
Asking too much of ourselves.
A study at Stanford University showed that a group of students asked to remember a seven digit number were twice as likely to choose a piece of chocolate cake over a bowl of fruit as a snack, as compared to another group who were only tasked with remembering a two digit number. It turns out that the more cognitive load our pre-frontal cortex carries, the less self-regulation we have.
Solution: Pick only one resolution.
Our busy lives already load our pre-frontal cortex work. keeping us focused, handling short term memory and solving abstract problems, so adding losing weight, reducing spending and limiting Facebook time can only cause our “willpower muscles” to fatigue and fail! For this New Year, choose only one intention. Who says resolutions come only once a year? You can choose another in a few months, and build on your success!
Making our resolutions too vague or broad.
Resolutions should not be confused with goals, which are broad targets that may include many things outside your immediate control. Your resolution may contribute to an overall life goal, but would be better initiated as a behavioral change or action you can take on a daily basis.
Solution: Be specific.
While losing weight is an admirable goal, setting an achievable exercise plan helps your brain by creating a structure for action. Even with a plan, keep your expectations realistic, and remember your intention. If your resolution is to walk three times per week, don’t stop if you don’t lose weight the first two weeks. Remember, that was not your resolution! If your resolution is to quit smoking, visit the smoking cessation clinic before the New Year, so you can begin the plan on January 1!
Picking a sub-optimal resolution.
There are many small ways we can make change in our lives, and sticking to any one of them, say, eating less at every meal, is very likely to bring about change. However, research shows that when choosing to change a habit, we would do well to look for a “keystone” habit, one which has the potential for starting a chain reaction in our lives.
Solution: Consider developing what might be a “keystone” habit.
In his book “The Power of Habit,” Charles Duhigg comments on University of Rhode Island research: “Typically, people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed…For many people, exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.” Neuroscience has shown us that Mindfulness Meditation is another profound keystone habit. In subjects who meditate regularly, actual growth in the medial pre-frontal cortex (MPFC) has been documented, with improvement in self-regulation, emotional and and immune system health as just a few of the overall results.
Avoiding the Owl Rather than Focusing on the Cheese.
While asking for support and encouragement from a close friend or family member can help keep you motivated, announcing your grand Resolution to your entire Facebook network might leave you like the mouse, looking over her shoulder for the owl and wondering when she will be caught. A study at the University of Maryland tested this phenomena. Two groups of students were asked to do a simple pencil maze; one group was to avoid the owl, the other to get to the cheese at the end of the maze. After finishing the puzzle, the owl avoiders did 50% worse on the next creative task than the cheese seekers. Avoidance pathways in the brain shut down creative thinking and risk taking, while approach pathways reduced stress and allowed those focused on their goal to be successful.
Solution: Set up rewards for small successes before you begin, and don’t worry about what others are thinking.
This is your life, and you are doing this for you. Your intention is to create long-term change, but human beings do better with regular hits of “feel good” chemicals like serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine. Treat yourself to a good night’s sleep, maybe in a fancy hotel room with a bubble bath, a funny movie, a walk in the woods, a day with a good friend. These will serve your intention far better than a “sneak” reward, like just one cigarette, or a bag full of Doritos.
Setting Up an “All or Nothing” Scenario.
Don’t kid yourself and think you will never eat another Dorito. Even with heavy duty addictions like cigarettes, a relapse does not mean ultimate failure. In fact, one study showed that 71% of people who successfully quit smoking said their first slip actually strengthened their efforts to quit.
Solution: Acknowledge fallibility and plan for it.
Astronaut Chris Hadfield describes the training strategy for space station crew members as “What is the Next Thing that Could Kill Me?” Astronauts are drilled to expect fallibility and to know what to do if a fail happens, and thus are able to solve inevitable problems without collapsing into panic. Get your strategies in line: When you miss one of your weekly walks, you have a friend lined up to walk with you. A bag of Doritos means a chance to head to Whole Foods for a healthy, delicious alternative. An overspend on a credit card is a reminder to telephone a financial counselor, today. If you were learning to play the piano, would you expect never to play a wrong note? As we move through this new endeavor, and acknowledge ourselves as fallible human beings, perhaps even with a smile, we down regulate the amygdala, or hair trigger in our brains that sends us into the fight or flight mode, which says, “I’ve blown it now, it’s all over.” We are able to move out of the past, and into the present moment, where we can take a positive action towards our plan.
Final Thought for this Year
The Latin origin of the word resolution is: “to loosen or release, dissolve.” Release your judgments and bathe yourself in kindness as you contemplate your New Year’s Resolutions. Talk to yourself like your grandmother who loves you no matter what, but gives good advice, too. Loosen up about what’s wrong with you, and focus on what’s right. Let this be your guide to an inspired you in 2014!
From my article in Camarillo Life Magazine for January, 2014.]]>
“Why are you saying, “Do you mind moving your leg?” I don’t mind. I want to do this. I love to do this.” These words are gifts from my good friend and yoga student George Benson, who practiced yoga with me regularly until a week before he passed away in August, at the age of 96.
George’s determination to keep up his strength and live life to the fullest, despite limitations due to an internal issue last year, inspired all of us at Camarillo Yoga Center. How could anyone think of complaining about a little physical effort to stay in good shape, while George made it clear he was not to be babied at 96, and that his lifelong exercise and nutritional discipline had provided him excellent health well into the years when many are in sad decline? His puzzlement at the idea that someone would mind doing whatever it takes to be in good health was an insightful commentary on the changes in our physical culture during the decades of George’s life.
As a young man in the navy, George began working out with weights, and continued an active life, swimming, hiking and running, until he developed a back issue at 86, and found yoga at Camarillo Yoga Center. Many years of strengthening, and working at jobs involving physical labor had caused tight muscles; George discovered that with a dedicated stretching program, his back pain was relieved entirely, and he became a fixture in our classes. At an age where many would give in and give up, George, as he always said, “played the cards he was dealt,” and made the effort to live with gusto into his nineties. At his memorial service, George’s daughter told us juicing was not a new fad in their lives- her dad bought massive bags of carrots for juicing in the 1950’s! A vegetarian for 65 years, George eschewed sugar and junk food, but loved to eat and delighted in healthy, tasty recipes, many with vegetables from his own garden, prepared by his beloved wife, Joyce. George was always quick with a joke, and his love of life was infectious.
In contrast to George’s active, healthy life, statistics show that today, only 30% of adult Americans take part in exercise of any kind! Not surprisingly, 35.7% of adults and 30% of children are obese, and these numbers are growing rapidly. Having been a teacher of yoga and movement for adults and children for over forty years, my experience is that fewer people tell me they enjoy moving their bodies, and working up a sweat. I regularly hear that perspiring or being warm “makes me uncomfortable” and “I really should exercise, but I just don’t like the feeling.” Additionally, we think of fatty, fried or sugar laden foods as treats, and “make ourselves” eat fruits and vegetables.
When did it become a burden to move our bodies the way nature intended, and to eat foods nature provides without draining them of all nutritional content? When did we lose sight of the gift of good health?
One clue is to look at the major labor-saving technological changes in the span of George’s lifetime:
My belief is that the “progress” which has allowed us to be more “comfortable” and have more leisure time, has weakened our bodies and our minds, and taken away the gift of effort, of sweat, of overcoming obstacles through our own application and persistence over time. We look for easy and fast at every turn, and fall prey to gimmicks that tell us on every level that we can look good and feel good without having to do anything at all.
The holidays are nearly here. While we shop online for more stuff, “treat ourselves” with holiday sweets and overeating, and create back pain driving far and wide, let’s remember George, and what is really important-
The best gift you can give yourself, your family, and the world, is a healthy you. Let’s change our minds about what we “mind” and what we enjoy. Let’s get strong and proud of it. Start small. Enjoy a walk with a loved one. Ask for a bicycle for Christmas. Take pride in the “effort” it takes to wash some blueberries for breakfast, or create a meal that’s healthy and tastes good. George taught me that a life well-lived requires effort, and that the effort itself can be joyful!
Joy to all this holiday season!
First published in Camarillo Life Magazine, December issue, 2013]]>
Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday at Camarillo Yoga Center. It’s no coincidence that our annual Thanksgiving morning class is so popular. Spending time in gratitude for our physical bodies, the breath that gives us life, and the good fortune to practice yoga with people we feel connected to, sends us into a holiday that can be stressful for some, feeling invigorated, happy, and… healthy!
The good news: it’s more than a feeling! According to Drs. Blaire and Rita Justice of the University of Texas Health Science Center, “a growing body of research shows that gratitude is truly amazing in its physical and psychosocial benefits.” Professor Robert Emmons, PhD, a scientist at University of California Davis, has intensively researched the effects of gratitude over eight years, publishing landmark studies, and a bestselling book, “Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.”
Feel grateful, be healthier.
In one of Emmons’ control groups, participants were asked to describe five things they were grateful for in a gratitude journal once a week. These subjects exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, and felt more optimistic about the coming week and their lives as a whole than did those in control groups who recorded hassles or neutral life events over the same time frame.
Give thanks, get more done, feel more connected.
Those in the gratitude group were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two month period. In Emmons’ further studies, people who practiced gratitude daily, showed higher positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, attentiveness and energy, in addition to greater “pro-sociality”, or goodwill and generosity towards others than did those who focused on gratitude weekly.
Count blessings, not sheep.
A University of Manchester, England study showed that subjects (many of whom reported sleep disorders) who took a few minutes before bed to write down things they were grateful for fell asleep faster, and improved overall quality of sleep.
Gratitude can strengthen your relationship.
Dr. John Gottman, the University of Washington’s famous “marriage doctor,” states that unless a couple is able to maintain a high range of positive to negative encounters (5:1 or greater), it is likely the marriage will end. Among the positives, he describes “expressions of appreciation and gratitude” as paramount, in addition to smiles, compliments and laughter.
Gratitude is not indebtedness, nor does it have to be spiritual.
In another study, (Emmons & Gray 2000) people who felt indebted to others report higher levels of anger and lower levels of appreciation, happiness and love compared to those who felt grateful. Gratitude is a chosen attitude, unrelated to guilt or obligation, which helps us to remember that we are all recipients of unearned benefits and good fortune, even in small things, and stop feeling entitled, or taking the good things in our lives for granted. If you are a religious person, praying is a wonderful way to give thanks. But gratitude does not have to be directed towards a deity, or anything specific. It might be as simple as feeling lucky that you found a parking spot easily, or smiling when the sun peeks out from behind a cloud.
The research is in: With an “attitude of gratitude” things don’t just look better, they actually get better!
“Ten Finger Gratitude Exercise”
There are so many positive things and moments we overlook in our lives. Once a day, count on your fingers ten things, people, situations, or moments you feel grateful for, or lucky to have, to know, or to be. When you open your mind to the small gifts all around you, you might be surprised at how difficult it is to run out of things to be grateful for!
Happy Thanks- giving!
Reprinted from my Camarillo Life Magazine Article, November 2013]]>
By Audrey Walzer
Reprinted from my Camarillo Life Magazine article, October 2013 issue.
Does it seem to you that despite a glut of “time saving” devices, the days, months and years fly by faster than ever? “What? It’s Christmas… already?” Our miraculous, ultra-complex brains have become so efficient at handling the demands of work, children, parents, social responsibility, and even our active and demanding recreational lives, that we can move through our days on auto-pilot, meeting our deadlines, fulfilling our responsibilities, keeping our heart rates up and our body fat down, and yet, with time flying by, somewhere inside many of us glimpse something elusive missing, despite our good work and our good fortune… One of the reasons I delved into the practice of mindfulness meditation was the poignant moment at the end of my father’s life, when his pained eyes met mine and he whispered, “Somehow, I just didn’t think it would all work out this way… where did the time go?”
Life is over before we know it. And life is simply- a series of moments. As George Carlin famously said, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” Mindfulness helps us live, really live, the moments of our lives in a deep and profoundly satisfying way. It is not just the latest bliss out fad, or a promise that pain and suffering will never come your way. Mindfulness practice gives us tools to deal with life’s difficulties, and helps us notice the exhaustion funnel before we are swallowed up by the pace of our own lives. In fact, recent neuroscientific research on the benefits of regular mindfulness practice is so exciting that mindfulness programs are springing up everywhere from the United States military to Harvard Medical school, to Google and other well-known corporations, and even Camarillo Yoga Center!
Physically, mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce cortisol and blood pressure, and to improve the immune system and gastrointestinal health, among other wellness markers. Mindfulness practice has also been shown to boost attention and concentration, while reducing stress- inducing emotional reactivity, leading to improved resilience and confidence.
The word “practice” is key here. Jon Kabatt-Zinn, founding director of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, is considered to be the grandfather of Mindfulness studies in the United States. In his words: “Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention, in the present moment, on purpose, and non-judgmentally.” And further, “Mindfulness is not merely a good idea: Oh yes, I will just be more present in my life, less judgmental, and everything will be better. Why didn’t that occur to me before?” Put simply, mindfulness requires practice to produce lasting and effective results.
Guidance and group support are helpful, and that’s why structured courses, like those used by neuroscientists, were created. At Camarillo Yoga Center, our Mindfulness Meditation courses are benefiting men and women of all ages and from all walks of life.
Many people have the idea that meditation means emptying the mind. “I can’t stop thinking for one minute, never mind sit down to meditate” is a common sentiment. Some people think of it as leaving the body, or worry about it being a religious practice. None of these is accurate, and this is why medical professionals, who recognize the validity and efficacy of the scientific research, recommend mindfulness meditation to reduce stress and improve health.
Focus begins with attention to our breathing, a natural process we take for granted. We note the thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations and background sounds that arise from moment to moment, observing them without analyzing, judging or pushing them away. As our moment by moment attention drifts into the narrative story of our lives (usually something from the past or future,) we gently guide our attention back to our direct experience, until the mind becomes quiet, like the still bottom of a lake, even though the winds of our minds create waves on the surface. It takes practice to experience this stillness and calm; mindfulness is a training for our brain, just like using weight resistance to train our muscles, so we build our practice muscles by sitting or lying down with attention for short periods.
We further develop our mindfulness practice with exercises that can be done all day long. This daily practice involves “waking up” to the life we have, noticing where our lives have slid into automatic pilot, opening our eyes to moments we take for granted, or miss altogether, and returning over and over again to direct experience. Many find this to be the elusive element we are missing in our whirlwind lives… the sweet, or bittersweet, never to arise again moments we miss, even though we are physically present… a smile on child’s face, a sunset, an unfulfilled need reflected in our partner’s eyes, a moment of deep satisfaction for a job we have done well… as John Lennon said, “life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.” Fulfillment arises from showing up for our lives, and living them as though they really matter.
Try this Mindful Wake-Up!
Instead of throwing the covers back and racing out of bed, or burying your head for 5 more minutes of sleep, try waking up to the life you have for a few minutes. When your eyes open in the morning, become aware of the breath entering your body. Feel the breath as though you could breathe all the way through your skin, gently enlivening your whole body. Take a moment to recognize that you are alive for the gift of another day. Spend a moment in gratitude for your shelter, for the safety of those who share your home, and whatever else comes to mind. Make the first moments upon waking a remembrance of what is really important… health, safety, love.. so that you can keep your perspective and walk with confidence through the rest of the day.]]>
Print Full Article
While the phrase “Be Here Now” is familiar to anyone who survived the sixties and young people unearthing the term for the first time, studies funded by the National Institute of Health, among others, have determined that mindful attention to the present moment may be the antidote to many of the physical, mental and emotional ailments created by our hectic, multi-tasking lives.
Simple as it sounds, “being here now” is unnatural for most of us, most of the time.
Recollect a recent car trip. Chances are that while driving, you were thinking about something that just happened, or planning for what was to come at your destination. Accompany this with eating, talking on the phone, or God forbid, texting….how much of your attention was actually focused on driving your car? Far from being here now, much of our day is spent re-living and re-feeling what has gone before, or pre-living future situations and rehearsing for problems which may never even manifest. What happens to the now? It passes by. And yet, your heart may be racing, your blood pressure and cortisol (stress hormone) elevated, simply because your physical body and your emotional brain may not have recognized the now.. and instead responded to your imaginary future or remembered past.
Besides the fact that it might be nicer, healthier, (and sometimes, safer) to spend more of our time actually experiencing our lives as they happen, and not in retrospect or preview, eye-opening neuroscientific studies show that “being here now” through mindfulness practices can significantly change your brain, for the better. Mindfulness training has been shown to reduce activity in the amygdala, a region of the brain that determines how much stress we experience, and is central in our fight/flight/freeze response. In fact, a published study from Massachusetts General Hospital on overstressed business people showed that after eight weeks of mindfulness meditation training, the size of the amygdala actually shrunk compared to those who were not practicing mindfulness. In those eight weeks, subjects were able to change their brain and, consequently, reduce their stress.
Several studies show that mindfulness practices improve prefrontal cortex (PFC) functioning, regulating emotions and improving attention span. Another study revealed that mindfulness increased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain correlated with empathy and decision-making. As these regions show more activation, subjects tend to report greater emotional stability and less reactivity. Neuroscientific research has found that mindfulness meditation changes our brain so that we experience ourselves in the world from a happier, calmer place. The evidence is in: regular mindfulness practice is like taking your brain to the gym to strengthen and enhance itself. And there’s more: Clinical studies of regular people like you and me, practicing non-religious mindfulness meditation on a regular basis show not only enhanced brain function, but reduced stress levels, improved immune systems, sleep patterns, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal health among other wellness markers.
Mindfulness practice is about attending to the present moment. It teaches us to notice how the body feels, how our breathing is, right now. Far from “emptying our brain,” mindfulness is a user friendly science experiment that helps us observe our thought processes without reacting or judging. By definition, mindfulness moves us out of how our life should be and into how life actually is, moment to moment, so that we can live the lives we have, and live them as though they really matter.
Try this simple Mindful Moment: Before you dive into your next meal, take three slow intentional breaths. Feel the weight of your body resting on your chair. Notice the colors and textures of the food in front of you. Take a moment to be grateful. Then, see how your food tastes, and how you feel eating it! Paying attention is the beginning of mindfulness, and it’s available to us in every moment.]]>
95-year-old stays active and healthy at local yoga studio
by Mark Storer
Special to the Acorn
George Benson has been active all his life. He ran a floor care and cleaning business in the San Fernando Valley from 1977 to 2001 and has always done his best to keep moving every day.
The lifestyle has worked well for the soon-tobe 96-year-old Leisure Village resident.
Benson said he felt he was slowing down about 10 years ago when he had a back issue—a problem that led him to try yoga and a whole new way to move his body.
“My wife, Joyce, and I were walking by the shops up on Santa Rosa Road, and we walked by the yoga studio there. I said, ‘Why don’t we go in there and ask them about my back?’ It changed my life,” he said.
The studio was the Camarillo Yoga Center on Santa Rosa Road.
“He was already standing really straight and he had good posture,” said Audrey Walzer, owner and director of the center. “He got his back better and pretty quickly he was doing intermediate classes. He really works at it and at that time was in classes with 20- and 30-year-olds.”
Benson, who has been a vegetarian for more than 65 years, was “in love with yoga,” he said. He worked at it and began subscribing to yoga magazines.
“It became not only physically good for me but also a social thing. I’ve met great friends through yoga, including Audrey.”
But about three years ago, Benson developed an eye disease that required him to wear an eye patch while he healed.
Walzer said wearing the patch caused Benson to look down when he walked.
“The result was that he got hunched over pretty quickly,” the yoga instructor said.
Benson now uses a walker and that has led to problems with his legs, Walzer said.
“We’re working on loosening him up a bit,” she said, adding, “He’s been able to get back some range of motion, and we’re getting there.”
As Walzer talks, Benson demonstrates some of the stretches and movements that help him.
“It just allows me to feel better,” he said. “It upsets me to no end that I have trouble walking, but it’s the hand I’ve been dealt and I’ve got to deal with it.”
Benson served in the Navy during World War II, based at Pearl Harbor after 1941.
“I was supposed to serve on a ship called the Blackhawk that was headed to the Philippines,” Benson said. “But a lieutenant I knew wanted me to stay with him at Pearl, and he transferred me. I must have been pretty lucky because the Blackhawk was torpedoed and they lost a lot of men. I could have been one of them.”
Benson married after the war. He and his first wife had four children before she died. He married Joyce 37 years ago and they had one child.
Joyce doesn’t do yoga, but she said it’s been good for her husband.
“ He really loves it. His friends come from there and it really does help him physically,” Joyce said.
“I’m really glad he went into the classes. It’s been wonderful.”
Walzer says yoga is good for anyone of any age.
“The biggest thing that people say to me is, ‘I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible.’ It’s kind of a misnomer,” Walzer said. “Yoga is a tool to keep yourself healthy and balanced. It’s not about being good at it. It’s not about a standard or goal. It’s about practicing healthy living.”
Benson will continue to do his best to stay healthy.
“The thing is, I move a lot and I eat fresh foods,” said Benson. “It doesn’t hurt that there are a lot of pretty girls who go to the classes with me, either.”
Camarillo Acorn Newspaper
By Michael Coons
HOLD STEADY—Jennifer Baker of Camarillo and her daughter, Ceri, practice their stance during a family yoga session at CamarilloYoga Center on Sept. 29. In celebration of the yoga studio’s 11th anniversary, all proceeds from the day’s class will be donated to Camarillo’s RAINTransition Living Center, a facility for homeless women and families. MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers