The Path of the Wounded Healer

Part Three: Crossing the Threshold

by Tonya Madia

“To reteach a thing its loveliness is the nature of metta. Through loving-kindness, everyone & everything can flower again from within.”   Sharon Salzberg

If you were to take a moment to examine some of the life experiences from which you emerged transformed in some way, you would most likely find that the series of events transpired in a similar, if not identical, pattern to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey outline. At the start of each new journey, the hero(ine) must be called away from their ordinary world.

We complete this cycle many times throughout our lifetime. By the time I received this most recent call I had been through enough of these journeys to recognize the Wounded Healer archetype expressing itself through me once again. From the time I was very young I recognized the healing and transformative power of helping others. It was a driving force in my decision to pursue my Reiki, yoga and massage therapy trainings.

Two years ago I began to experience sudden and profound changes in my health. I gained over 40 pounds in a matter of a few months, struggled with increasingly low energy and exhaustion, and I began to have mysterious aches and pains. Most notably, I had monthly struggles with extremely heavy menstrual cycles.

Convinced that my issues were simply the result of the hormonal changes associated with peri-menopause, I tried a variety of natural remedies and lifestyle changes— everything from low carb/no carb diets, exercising, fasting, cleansing, supplements, and essential oils, all to no avail.

I became so obsessed with resolving the issue through lifestyle changes that my ordinary world had become one of constant research, lifestyle adjustments and frequent trips to the gym. None of these efforts proved successful and self-criticism and old beliefs about self-worth based on appearance resurfaced.

After about two years of dwelling in this ordinary world of struggle, the call came and I found myself in the ER. Several tests revealed that I had a large uterine mass and was severely anemic. I brought the results to a noted gynecologist in West Virginia. After discussion with my family, I made the decision to travel 10 hours to be in the care of someone highly recommended at a medical facility that I knew well from my time working at the Center of Excellence in Women’s Health at the university. The gynecologist promptly scheduled a procedure called a hysteroscopy. A few weeks later the procedure was done and my doctor felt confident I would begin to feel better.

I didn’t. The hysteroscopy was an outpatient procedure and I had thought that when I’d agreed to the procedure, I’d answered the latest call to adventure. (After all, I would literally be leaving my ordinary world, as I traveled 10 hours to WV have it done!)

As it turned out the hysteroscopy wasn’t the call—it was only a precursor to the call that would arrive two weeks later, with the onset of my next menstrual cycle.

Another trip to the ER (this one even scarier, as my blood pressure plummeted from blood loss and I had to be hooked up to monitors and given fluids through and IV), another series of tests, and the determination was made by a local doctor that held within a single word my call to adventure. Hysterectomy.

With such a surprisingly large number of women requiring them, the surgery is considered by many to be “no big deal.” It was a big deal to me! I soon became quite anxious about the surgery and all that came with it. Physical trauma, pain, potential complications, the loss of internal organs, sudden hormonal changes, six weeks of recovery time… I wasn’t so sure about answering this call. As hesitant as I was, I knew what I had to do so I resigned myself to the inevitable journey ahead.

Deep down I knew what this journey was about and that it was long overdue. As an energy practitioner and yoga teacher, The Wounded Healer in me had been examining my condition from an energetic standpoint. This was a second chakra issue (see my earlier blog post, or my book Living the Intuitive Life, for a detailed outline of the chakra system). The second, or sacral, chakra resides energetically in the reproductive organs. Physically, it relates to the ovaries in women, the testes in men and the adrenal glands, spleen, uterus, urinary and circulatory systems. The decades-old wounds that I mentioned in Part Two of this series had been forgotten, but they were not gone. As long-ignored wounds do, they began to fester.

It was time to face these issues head on and proceed with the surgery. As nervous as I was when I arrived at the hospital the morning of the surgery, I was at the same time anxious to get on with it, cross the threshold and move into the next phase of my journey. Although I recognized the surgery as the crossing of the threshold in the journey, I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, or what it would look like.

Following the surgery, I found out that my uterus was three times its normal size and had a noncancerous mass within it the size of a baseball! There were also many fibroids that had attached themselves throughout my reproductive system, some of which had hemorrhaged.

As I said, long-ignored wounds can fester.

Three weeks later I believe I have a better understanding of what I have gone through. Anyone who’s ever had major surgery knows you awake from the anesthesia feeling somewhat befuddled and vulnerable. I remember feeling confused and afraid when the nurses instructed me to shift from the gurney I was on over to the bed in my hospital room. It seemed an impossible task and I remember thinking in my hazy state that they were being unreasonable. Apparently they weren’t, as I managed to eventually maneuver myself onto the bed. The following morning I remember having a similar feeling when the nurse insisted I get up and walk around. I was sure she had lost her mind. She hadn’t, and I found I was able to get out of the bed and shuffle my way around my little room.

The past few weeks have been an interesting collection of similar milestones and a rising awareness within me that vulnerability isn’t as scary as I once believed. I’m learning with each passing day to extend kindness and patience to myself while at the same time learning to feel comfortable asking others to do things for me that I’m unable to do for myself.

I’m learning just how many of those “simple things” I once took for granted. Things like sitting up in bed on my own, bending down and walking, lifting a pot of soup onto the stove to reheat it, and moving about with ease. All of these will of course return in time, but in the meantime I am allowing myself to learn and practice the art of gratitude along with the ease of acceptance when my loved ones happily offer to assist me. I am learning to treat myself with loving kindness, and even more importantly, that I am deeply deserving of it.

 

 

The Path of the Wounded Healer

Part Two: Chiron, the Wounded Healer

By Tonya Madia

Who is the Wounded Healer?

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung identified a universal language of symbols shared by the collective unconscious of the human race. According to Jung, these universal symbols show up in dreams, literature, art, and religion. Author and lecturer Caroline Myss describes archetypes as patterns of energy that express themselves through us and believes them to be an intricate part of the “symbolic coordinates” through which we navigate our world.

We speak and think in archetypes. Through the language of archetypes a great deal of information can be conveyed in a single word. If I wanted to describe someone to you I could do so efficiently by saying, “she’s a real princess,” “he’s an artist,” “she’s such a victim,” or “he’s a rescuer.” We all possess at least a dozen different archetypes and therefore a “mother” can at the same time be an “artist” and a “storyteller” can also be a “pirate.”

The Wounded Healer archetype is compelled by his or her wounds to help others. Like all archetypes The Wounded Healer must embark on, and return from the Hero’s Journey before their full potential can be actualized.

The Path of The Wounded Healer begins with the wound, which is an essential part of the healer’s abilities. The 13th-century Persian poet Rumi wrote, “The wound is where the light enters” and I believe that it is also where empathic ability enters. It is because The Wounded Healer has experienced deep and profound wounds that she or he is able to understand the pain of another and is compelled to try to ease it. We’ve all been wounded to some extent, but the difference for The Wounded Healer is that their wound or wounds served to break them open in such a way as to activate strong empathic capabilities. Wounded Healers don’t just see the suffering of others—they feel it. It doesn’t matter that the wounds are very different; for The Wounded Healer the quality of the pain is very much the same.

The Wounded Healer’s empathic abilities make them extremely compassionate and very often they find themselves drawn to the healing arts. But regardless of whether they pursue a career in the field of medicine, social work, or other areas of healing, they are subconsciously drawn to try to help ease the pain of others in practically everything they do. Wounded Healers have an innate ability to energetically connect to the emotional frequency of others while at the same time emitting the comforting frequency of compassion required to help ease that suffering. But the natural abilities of The Wounded Healer pale in comparison with the inherent healing abilities these individuals possess. The only way for the Wounded Healer to realize their full potential is through the healing of their own wounds.

In Greek mythology the centaur Chiron represents The Wounded Healer archetype. Chiron sustained two wounds, which never healed—one emotional and the other physical. It was his suffering that drove him to search for relief, and through that search he gained wisdom, experience, and the ability to counsel, teach, and heal others.

With the arrival of my most recent call to adventure, I asked Dr. Grace Reischman, a talented astrologist, to take a look at my chart for some guidance. Here is her reply:

“An event called the ‘Chiron Return’ happens when we are between the ages of 49 and 51.  Similar to a ‘Saturn return.’ it means that Chiron has orbited once around the sun (it takes about 50 years for Chiron) and has returned in your chart to the time when you were born.  I just feel strongly that your health challenge and upcoming surgery are related to your Chiron return.

Chiron is in your 6th house, which is the house of work but also of health and disease. Venus, which rules your femaleness, is there also. Chiron’s return can activate old wounds, deep ones, ones that you might not have been conscious of and with Venus there, it is very possibly a wound that happened to your sense of femaleness when you were born or that happened between ages 1 to 4 and somehow the root of the female health issue is there.”

I found this to be as fascinating as it was accurate. I am 49. My initial wound came between the ages of 2 and 5. Similar, subsequent wounds occurred at the ages of 6, 9, 14, and 18. Details about the wounds are not as important as their overarching theme, which was directly related to my sense of femaleness, exactly as Dr. Reischman pointed out. From an energetic standpoint these wounds are directly related to the sacral chakra—the chakra of creativity, fertility, sexuality, and personal boundaries.

In massage school we are taught that our “issues are in our tissues” and this is very true. Unresolved issues eventually manifest themselves in the physical body as any number of health conditions. From this perspective my hysterectomy constitutes the “crossing of the threshold” in Joseph Campbell’s map of the Hero’s Journey. The removal of the physical condition is only the beginning; the deeper healing comes from the inner work that will take place over the next several months—the work of forgiving and accepting myself and establishing strong personal boundaries without guilt, an ability that I lost when respect for the personal boundaries of my body had been repeatedly disregarded by others.

When I was 14 a boy that I was infatuated with told me that I should be grateful for his time because prettier girls than me were vying for his attention. Those words went a long way toward sealing a belief I had held since childhood—that my self-worth and appearance were inextricably connected. Looking back, it wasn’t so much his words that were at issue, but my immediate willingness to accept them without question. A conditioned acceptance I suppose, because the nature of the wounds carried an insidious message; that my inherent value was contained only in my physical body. It was a belief that I would spend decades trying to free myself from, and one that would remain deeply rooted in my subconscious even after my logical mind had been freed from it.

When my health issues began two years ago my body and appearance began to change and as they did I noticed old beliefs about my self worth begin to resurface. I once again found myself agonizing over perceived deficits in my appearance and it soon became apparent that there was still much work for me to do. Regardless of my logical mind’s willingness to accept that I am worthy in spite of (and perhaps even because of) my perceived shortcomings, it’s time to heal the deep-rooted wounds that insist otherwise.

For me it makes perfect sense that 50 marks the return of Chiron to his natal position, as this age heralds an important life transition. I turn 50 in four months and I look forward to using this time of recovery to challenge the dragon of my harmful beliefs and emerge healed, transformed, and ready to take full ownership of myself as a person, a woman, and a healer. It is my hope that the wisdom gained from my experience will be something I can share with others to help them along on their own Hero’s Journey.

 

 

Chiron image retrieved from: http://rubyxia.com/?p=964

The Path of the Wounded Healer

Part One:  The Call to Adventure

By Tonya Madia

Two months ago I received one of the most exciting packages to ever arrive for me in the mail, the proof copy of my first book. It was a moment I had been anticipating for most of my life from the time I had decided that I wanted to be a writer at the age of 12. Holding the proof copy in my hands was exciting and exhilarating and my mind raced with the details of the adventure I was about to embark on. I had already scheduled the venues and dates for several book talks, signings and workshops and I was anxious to get started.

Three days later I received a call that would set me on the path to a very different adventure. It wasn’t a call in the literal sense, but rather the kind of call described by author and mythologist Joseph Campbell in his narrative pattern described as The Hero’s Journey. The timing of the call, defined by Campbell as the hero’s Call to Adventure, was ironic, arriving as it did just as I was about to set out on a different adventure; an adventure I had planned.

The call itself didn’t surprise me. It was a call I had received many times over the years; a call I had refused each and every time it came. But the thing about The Hero’s Journey is, if the hero refuses the call, there is no adventure. The thing about the adventure is that it is a necessary part of our development. Without it we can’t fully realize our potential and can never find our Bliss. Our Bliss is our dharma, our purpose, the thing we cannot not do. The call I’d been refusing was one of healing, a spiritual kind of healing, the healing of very old, very deep wounds, wounds from childhood and adolescence long ago forgotten, but never fully forgiven.

So the call came and I found myself in the emergency room. “Hello,” I answered.

“Hey, there! How ya doing? It’s me… the Universe. I have this grand adventure planned for you, you know the one, the one I’ve been inviting you on for years?”

“Oh, yeah, that adventure,” I sighed. “Gee, I’m kinda busy right now… can we make it quick?”

No reply was initially given, but the answer came about six weeks later.

“Sorry, this is the adventure of a lifetime and these kinds of adventures cannot be rushed.”

The journey I’m facing is one of healing and embracing what Carl Jung described in archetypal terms as The Wounded Healer, the healer who is compelled by her own wounds to help others. Because archetypes are patterns of energy that express through us and are intricately tied to our purpose, I was well aware of The Wounded Healer archetype within me. I had been hoping all these years that she could just remain wounded, continue to do her work and avoid the profound work associated with spiritual healing. I had hoped it, but I knew it didn’t work that way. Like all archetypes, the potential of The Wounded Healer cannot fully be actualized until she embarks on her journey, faces her dragons and returns with a wisdom and perspective that she will then apply to her work helping others.

This journey for me is about facing the wounds, accepting them and forgiving. I had been refusing the call all these years because I was confused about the forgiving part. I thought that forgiveness was only needed for the ones who’d inflicted the wounds in the first place and I had done that, years ago. It wasn’t until recently when once again I found myself ready to refuse this call and wondering what exactly it was that I was afraid of, that it hit me. The person who hadn’t been forgiven was me.

I have heard it said that so few people choose to forgive because it is extremely difficult to do. I thought that I was different. I had never found forgiving others to be difficult, and have always found wisdom in the Buddhist saying, “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” What I had never taken into consideration was my inability to forgive myself. Like most children and young adults who’ve suffered abuse and trauma, I believed that I was largely at fault.

One week ago today marked the threshold of this journey. The one I’ve been refusing for so long. The one in which I must enter the darkness of the cave and face my dragon. As nervous as I was about the surgery, I am happy to report that everything went very well and, though sore and weak, my body is mending. The surgery however, was only the catalyst. The pain and recovery time associated with recovering are the required initiation. I will be using the next six weeks to write about this journey as it unfolds as well as exploring how wounds, like everything, are energy and if left to fester manifest themselves physically through our bodies energetic anatomy. Where they lodge and what part of our physical bodies they affect depends on the type of wound. My wounds were specific to the second chakra and therefore affected my reproductive organs.

As I sat down to put the final touches on this first blog entry, I sipped a cup of tea. I couldn’t help but smile when I read the affirmation on the tag: “Be kind to others, but always be compassionate to yourself.” That’s the journey I find myself on. I am curious and intrigued by the treasure that awaits, and I hope you’ll come along with me.

[Image from Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey]

Your Energetic Anatomy

by Tonya Madia

According to yogic tradition, the subtle body or energy body is comprised of Prana. Prana is distributed through the body through the seven chakras (Sanskrit for wheel), and when these centers are healthy and functioning properly they spin in a clock-wise motion like a wheel.

On a physical level, each of the seven major chakras align with the body through nerve ganglia, correspond to glands and organs in the body, and are situated at various points along the spinal column. Each of the seven energy centers serves to connect the physical body to the emotional and spiritual realms and corresponds to patterns of behavior and specific “life themes.” Symbolically, each chakra is represented by a lotus, which is depicted by a specific color and number of petals. Each of the chakras, or energy centers, vibrates at different frequencies, corresponding to sound vibrations and the sound vibrations produced by each chakra correspond to seven notes on the musical scale and are associated with “seed sounds,” referred to as Bija Mantras.

When the chakras are functioning properly energy flows freely and the body is both physically and emotionally balanced. Factors such as our external environment and internal states can affect the vibrational flow of energy into and out of the chakras and when this occurs, one or more of these energy centers can become out of balance, resulting in the presence of either too much or too little energy. These imbalances can manifest physically as illness and disease, emotionally as depression, anger or mania and spiritually as patterns or themes that perpetually reoccur in our lives.

The seven major chakras from bottom to top are as follows:

The First Chakra: The Root, in Sanskrit: Muladara or “Root Support.”

The Muladhara chakra is located at the base of the spine near the coccygeal plexus and is represented by a four-petaled lotus. Physically this chakra relates to the base of the spine, the legs, the feet and the large intestine. Muladhara corresponds to the life themes of self-preservation and to basic needs such as food, water, shelter and safety. The first chakra also establishes our connection to familial and cultural traditions that form our sense of identity. Patriotism, societal belief systems and family traditions are all part of the energy circulating in the root chakra. This energy center literally represents our “roots” and is expressed when we share belief patterns with a large group of people. The Muladhara chakra is associated with the element of earth, its color is red, its musical note is “C” and its seed sound is “Lam.”

The Second Chakra: The Sacral, in Sanskrit: Svadhisthana or “Dwelling Place of the Self.”

Svadhisthana is located above the pubic bone and below the navel in the location of the sacral ganglia. It sits two finger-widths above the Muladhara and is represented by a six-petaled lotus. Physically this chakra relates to the ovaries in women, the testes in men and the adrenal glands, spleen, uterus, urinary and circulatory systems. Svadhisthana corresponds to the life themes of sexuality, fertility, creativity and one-on-one relationships. The seeds of self-identity and personal boundaries lie within this energy center, as does our ability to bring creative ideas to fruition. Imbalances in this energy center might manifest as addiction, excessive emotional attachment to others, codependency or excessive neediness in relationships. Water is the element of Svadhisthana, its color is orange, its musical note is “D” and its seed sound is “Vam.”

The Third Chakra: The Solar Plexus, in Sanskrit: Manipura or “Lustrous Gem.”

The ten-petaled Manipura is located in the middle of the abdomen behind the navel, near the lumbar ganglia and is also known as the navel center. Physically Manipura relates to the pancreas, stomach, liver, small intestine and the digestive and endocrine systems. This chakra corresponds to the life themes of self-esteem, personal power and identity. The energies in this chakra directly relate to self-respect, self-discipline and strength of character. Imbalances in this energy center can manifest as lack of confidence, inability to make decisions and giving our power over to others. Manipura’s element is fire, its color is yellow, its musical note is “E” and its seed sound is “Ram.”

The Fourth Chakra: The Heart, in Sanskrit: Anahata or “Unhurt, Unstruck, and Unbeaten.”

The twelve-petaled lotus of the Anahata chakra is located in the center of the chest at the cardiac plexus and is also referred to as the heart center for good reason; it is the center of the human energy system. Physically this chakra relates to the lungs, heart, pericardium, arms and hands. Corresponding life themes are compassion, love and healing. While the lower three chakras relate to our interactions with the physical world, the heart chakra is the bridge between the three lower chakras (physical) and the three higher (spiritual) chakras. The energies of the fourth chakra relate to our emotional development and our ability to express our emotions with ease. Imbalances may manifest as being overly critical of yourself and others, holding grudges and an inability to give or receive love freely. The element of Anahata is air, its color is green, its note is “F” and its corresponding seed sound is “Yam.”

The Fifth Chakra: The Throat, in Sanskrit: Visuddha or “Purification.”

The sixteen-petaled Visuddha chakra is located in the throat at the pharyngeal plexus and physically relates to the thyroid, parathyroid, voice box, ears, neck and shoulders. Known as the purification center, the Vishuddha chakra gives voice to our spirit. Corresponding life themes include self-expression and communication, the energies expressed through this chakra relate to keeping our word, speaking and hearing the truth and owning the consequences of our actions. When we lie to ourselves or to others we create imbalances in this center. Visuddha’s element is sound, its color is blue, its note is “G” and its corresponding seed sound is “Ham.”

The Sixth Chakra: The Third Eye, in Sanskrit: Ajna or “To Perceive.”

The third eye chakra is represented by a two-petaled lotus and is located just above the carotid plexus in the center of the forehead. Physically this chakra relates to the eyes, brain and pituitary gland. The Ajna chakra corresponds to the themes of higher perception, wisdom, inner awareness, self-reflection, imagination and intuition. Imbalances in this energy center manifest in the physical body as neurological disturbances, learning disabilities, coordination or balance issues and vision problems and emotionally as daydreaming and escapism. Its element is light, its color is indigo, its note is “A” and its seed sound is “OM.”

The Seventh Chakra: The Crown, in Sanskrit: Sahasrara or “Thousand Fold.”

The crown chakra is depicted as a thousand-petaled lotus located on the top of the head and represents our connection to the divine. Sahasrara governs the pineal gland and the central nervous system, and is the center of spirituality and enlightenment. It corresponds to learning how to experience the divine, and imbalances can manifest as feeling a lack of purpose, denying spirituality or as an addiction to spirituality. Sahasrara’s element is thought, its color is white and its sound is silence.

 

The Practice and Philosophy of Yoga

By Tonya Madia, RYT, RMT, LMBT

 “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali

Yoga is an ancient practice believed to have originated in India approximately 5,000 years ago. Developed originally as a practice for enhanced meditation through breath awareness, the focus on asanas, or physical postures, did not come about until much later.

Around 400 CE, Patanjali codified yoga in his work titled The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. Divided into four chapters or books, the Yoga Sutra contains 196 aphorisms, and a clearly defined eight-limbed path having two parts: the Yamas (ethical standards) and Niyamas (observances or disciplines).

Through careful observance and application of the Yamas and Niyamas one can achieve Samadhi, a state of absorption, or oneness. The Yamas and Niyamas are intrinsic to any yoga practice, starting with Ahimsa, the objective of kindness and the intention of doing no harm. It is through the practice of Ahimsa that the student learns to honor his or her body.

Yoga is a Sanskrit word which means to yoke, or bind. It is the discipline of creating a union between body and mind in order to rediscover our true self. It is an ever-changing energy that flows through our consciousness. As we allow ourselves to arise, abide and dissolve into each pose, the patterning of consciousness subsides. In Sutra 1:41 Patanjali states: “As the patterning of consciousness subsides, a transparent way of seeing, called coalescence, saturates consciousness; like a jewel, it reflects equally what lies before it whether subject, object, or act of perceiving.”

While yoga began as a practice to enhance meditation, in the West what we refer to as yoga is actually Hatha yoga. Hatha yoga focuses on the third limb of the eight-limbed path, a set of physical exercises designed to align your skin, muscles, and bones. The postures are also designed to open the many channels of the body—especially the main channel, the spine—so that energy can freely flow.

Hatha is translated as ha meaning “sun” and tha meaning “moon.” This refers to the balance of masculine aspects—active, hot, sun—and feminine aspects—receptive, cool, moon—within all of us. Hatha yoga is a path toward creating balance and uniting opposites. In our physical bodies we develop a balance of strength and flexibility. We also learn to balance our effort and surrender in each pose.

When starting a yoga practice, it is helpful if you can find a local class geared toward beginners. Time and time again I hear people say that their first experience with a yoga video did not hold a candle to the experience they had in an actual class. Often, attempts to begin a yoga practice with a video are quickly aborted, as a video cannot offer you feedback or assist you with finding your way in a particular pose. There is also a lot to be gained energetically from being in a room filled with yogis and yoginis that is lost with a video, so, while videos can be a great tool for those with some experience with the asanas, I find they are not always the best way to begin your yoga journey.

I frequently hear potential students express concern that they are not flexible enough to do yoga; rest assured, it is not necessary to be flexible to do yoga. Anyone can do yoga, and while there are some advanced poses in which the experienced yogi can bend themselves into unbelievable positions, this is not the case with a basic yoga practice. Also, any yoga pose can be modified to meet and accommodate specific ability levels.

Another common concern I hear is with regard to finding the right yoga class. With so many different types of yoga available, it can be difficult, even intimidating, to those just starting out. I always recommend starting with a gentle beginner’s class to learn the basic poses and become aware of your level of flexibility and endurance.

Since everyone is different, some people find that they enjoy remaining in a beginner’s class for many months, while other’s find they prefer more of a challenge. For those who prefer more of a challenge, I recommend trying an Ashtanga (Sanskrit for eight limbs) yoga class. In an Ashtanga class, the same series of poses are practiced in the same order, creating a dynamic, and physically demanding practice. Because the same poses are explored in the same order for each practice, core strength quickly develops and the student’s level of skill grows quickly.

Once you have started your practice and become familiar with the basic poses and breathing techniques, it is important to explore different classes, teachers, and teaching styles. Everyone is different and different practices appeal to different people. Try as many types of classes as you can, and most importantly, have fun and never judge your self; accept where you are in your practice with no attachment to outcome. Simply be present and continue to practice. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga Yoga, was known for saying: “Do your practice and all is coming.”

I always recommend two books for those who are ready to begin their yoga journey, the first is Bringing Yoga to Life, by Donna Farhi and the other is Yoga Body, Buddha Mind, by Cyndi Lee; both authors provide wonderful insight for the reader into the practice of yoga.

I have heard it said that yoga is a journey that leads us home to ourselves. I wish you all the best on your journey!

Namaste

 

Pranayama

by Tonya Madia

The word prana is a Sanskrit word meaning “breath” or “life force”; ayama translates to “expansion” or “extension”; together the two words mean breath extension. Pranayama is breath work that connects the mind, body and spirit through the disciplined practice of controlling the breath.

The practice of pranayama directs the flow of energy in the body and is used to balance both emotions and the physical body. A daily practice of focused breath work is extremely beneficial for both the physical and energetic bodies.

There are many different techniques, ranging from simple to extremely challenging. However, the pranayama practice that I often recommend starting with is Alternate Nostril Breathing.

The practice of Alternate Nostril Breathing balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain, improves blood circulation, cleanses the nadis (energy channels), helps to balance the chakras (energy centers), and oxygenates the blood.

Alternate Nostril Breathing Practice

Sit in a comfortable seated position and allow the spine to lengthen and the shoulders to relax.

With the thumb of the right hand, close the right nostril and inhale from the left nostril for a count of eight; gently hold the breath in as you release the right nostril and close the left nostril with the pinky of your right hand.

Exhale from the right nostril for a count of eight, hold for one count, then inhale through the right nostril for a count of eight.

Release the left nostril and bring the thumb back to the right nostril as you inhale from the left nostril for a count of eight.

(Beginners to this practice often get confused, so it is helpful to keep in mind that you will always inhale through the nostril that you just exhaled through, before switching sides).

Each time you inhale and exhale through both nostrils is considered a round; continue the practice for several rounds, or as long as is comfortable. It is best not to overdo it when first starting this practice, and work your way up over time as your body becomes more accustomed to the increase in oxygen this practice provides.

Another simple pranayama technique is abdominal breathing. By the time we are adults, many of us have developed the habit of becoming chest breathers. This method of breathing does not allow for full, proper breaths and therefore inhibits the amount of oxygen our bodies receive.

If you have ever watched a baby sleep, you have observed abdominal breathing. With each inhalation a baby’s belly expands and rises, and it falls with each exhalation. Because we are so obsessed with sucking in our bellies, we develop the habit of breathing essentially backwards, drawing the abdomen in with each inhale and never allowing abdominal muscles to relax to make room for the expansion of the diaphragm.

Abdominal Breathing Practice

Lie down on your back and allow your body to relax. Allow your left arm to rest on the floor next to your body, and place your right hand on your belly.

With each inhale, allow your belly to rise and swell fully and feel your belly gently fall with each exhale.

Allow time for slow, deep breaths, inhaling for a count of ten and exhaling for a count of ten. If possible, try to inhale and exhale through the nose rather than the mouth.

If comfortable, increase the count of each inhale and exhale to achieve as full a breath as possible. Be sure the length of the exhalation matches the length of the inhalation.

Continue this practice for several minutes, or as long as it is comfortable for you to do so.

Abdominal breathing is an excellent method of reducing stress and inducing relaxation. One reason for this is the effect that deep breathing has on the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest of the cranial nerves and controls the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your relaxation response. Taking deep breaths causes the diaphragm to expand, stimulating the vagus nerve, which in turn activates the parasympathetic nervous system.

Finding time in each day to practice abdominal breathing will not only assist with stress reduction—it will provide you with quiet opportunities to explore the subtle messages your body might be trying to convey.

Meditation Series: Breath Meditation

By Tonya Madia

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 “Meditation means to be constantly extricating yourself from the clinging of mind.”.—Ram Dass

My students and clients frequently ask me for advice on creating a meditation practice, often complaining about their inability to quiet their minds, or to make the thoughts stop all together. Meditation is the process of allowing your thoughts to flow freely without attaching yourself to them, and in this seven-part series I will be exploring several types of meditation practices, beginning with the practice of breath meditation.

The physical benefits of meditation are many, and include lowered blood pressure, decreased tension-related pain, increased serotonin production, and a boost to the immune system. The mental and emotional benefits of meditation include increased mental focus and clarity, decreased anxiety, and increased creativity, to name a few.

With so many observable benefits, it’s easy to see why you might want to start a meditation practice, but perhaps not as easy is deciding how to begin your practice. I have found the most success with my meditation practice when I begin in the morning before I get out of bed.

After waking, I take a few moments to position myself in a comfortable seated position and bring my awareness to my breath, allowing the breath to move in and out through the nose. On the inhale, I allow my lungs to fill fully by relaxing my abdomen, making room for my lungs and ribs to fully expand; as I exhale, I allow the air to move freely from lungs without effort.

Breath meditation is the practice of quieting the mind by bringing awareness to the breath. Breath is the bridge between the body and the mind and it is said that the mind is the king of the body, but the breath is the king of the mind. If you have ever taken a moment to take a deep breath and count to ten, you have experienced the power of the breath to calm the mind. One reason for this is the affect that deep breathing has on the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve is the longest of the cranial nerves and controls the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your relaxation response. By taking a deep breath and expanding your diaphragm, the vagus nerve is stimulated, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system.

Beginning a breath meditation practice can be as simple as finding a few quiet moments throughout your day in which you put everything else aside and bring your awareness to your breath. This practice can be initiated at any time and place, although I recommend setting aside a specific time and place each day, as beginning any new habit takes time and effort and by allocating a scheduled time and place you provide yourself with the best possible chance for success.

By spending a few minutes every morning cultivating this practice you can bring calmness and increased metal clarity to your day. If you are new to meditation, I suggest starting with two to three minutes each day, and adding a minute a day each day.

As you sit quietly with your awareness on your breath you will probably notice that thoughts begin to arise; this is to be expected—thoughts are the natural condition of the mind. Thinking is what the mind does, and meditation is not the process of stopping the thoughts but, rather, allowing the thoughts to flow without becoming attached to them. A wonderful visualization for this is to imagine your thoughts as leaves floating down a river; as the thoughts float by you simply acknowledge their presence and watch them as they pass by.

Another helpful tool is the practice of non-judgment. Judging is the trap that tangles us in our thoughts. It is common for judging thoughts to arise during meditation, thoughts about how our practice is going in relation to ideas we may have about how it should be going, etc. Once the judgments arise, the mind follows them like a lost dog, so when you notice thoughts of judgment or criticism arising, simply notice them, and then let them go.

The process of meditation is not about controlling our thoughts, but instead becoming the master of them so that when the lost dog begins to wander off we simply call it back to the present moment with our breath. To be fully present in each moment is the goal of meditation, and in my next article on meditation, we will explore the practice of Mindfulness.

Meditation, like any disciplined endeavor, takes time to cultivate, which is exactly why we call it a practice; when applied daily the process becomes less challenging and before long we can become the master our thoughts and not allow them to master us.

 

 

Essential Oils Basics

aroma

Essential oils are making the news as a powerful way to take control over our own personal health and wellness especially for everyday concerns. Many people are reporting a host of benefits from less stress, better sleep, increase in positive moods, and happier and healthier children.  As a Massage Therapist, and Reiki practitionerI have used essential oils in my practice for years.

What exactly are essential oils?
Essential oils are naturally occurring, aromatic compounds found in plants that provide plants with protection against environmental threats, and play a role in plant pollination. Because of their intrinsic benefits, essential oils have long been used for beauty treatments, healing and medicinal practices, as well as for food preservation and preparation.

How do you use essential oils?
The therapeutic benefits can be experienced aromatically, meaning that the benefits of essential oils are experienced through inhalation, and through topical application in which the oil is applied directly to the skin. In some cases essential oils can also be taken internally; however, because there is currently no regulation for essential oils, it is important to buy essential oils from certified companies who provide only pure, therapeutic grade oils, and under the supervision of a knowledgeable practitioner.

Where can you buy essential oils?
There are currently only a few essential oil companies in the industry that hold growers to high standards and send the final product to laboratories to be tested for quality and impurities. Of the companies who test, doTERRA, in my opinion, has the most stringent quality protocols, and this is why I only use doTERRA’s Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade® (CPTG) essential oils, which can be purchased through me.

Uplifting, protective, calming, and regenerating, essential oils are a unique gift from nature. The very essence of a plant, they are aromatic liquids that have been used for thousands of years to calm, relax and uplift the spirit, detoxify the body, and heal wounds. Today science is discovering that essential oils can accelerate the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the cells, kill bacteria, and battle free radicals.

If you would like to learn more about essential oils, please join me and Wellness Consultant Dawn Hoffmann, Wednesday, November 4th at 6:30pm at 107C Robin Ave. in Atlantic Beach for a relaxing & informational evening when we’ll be exploring some of the many uses of these amazing gifts from nature! We invite you to be here with us as we share valuable, first-hand knowledge of the remarkable effects of these amazing oils.

Refreshments & light fare. Bring a friend and receive a free gift!

Massage for Emotional Wellbeing

by Tonya Madia

You are probably already aware that getting a massage can be a wonderful way to treat yourself to some relaxing me-time, however studies continue to prove the physical, and emotional benefits of even a single massage therapy session.

Because of the many purported benefits of massage therapy, research has or is being conducted on a wide range of areas.

If you’ve ever received a therapeutic massage you know how relaxing and rejuvenating one can be. Many people already understand the variety benefits of massage therapy, and the role it can play in:

• Relieving stress
• Promoting relaxation
• Relieving muscle tension
• Improving range of motion and flexibility in muscles
• Reducing blood pressure.
• Strengthening the immune system

In addition, recent research has shown that massage can decrease cortisol levels in the body while increasing the brain’s “feel good” neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.

Cortisol is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands and has been termed “the stress hormone” because it is secreted in higher levels during the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response to stress. High and prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream have been shown to impair cognitive performance, suppress thyroid function and lower immunity and inflammatory responses.

A 2005 article in the International Journal of Neuroscience states:

“Massage therapy has been noted to significantly alter the biochemistry of humans both immediately following massage sessions and over the course of massage therapy treatment periods.”1

In the area of behavioral health treatments that include massage therapy are encouraging and studies have indicated that victims of PTSD show a significant decrease in physiological and physical symptoms, after massage and body-oriented therapy. Massage for clients with PTSD may help to restore feelings of safety, trust, control, self-worth and intimacy.

In addition studies on massage for chronic illnesses and emotional disturbance have shown a positive impact on anxiety level, depressed mood and biochemical imbalances.

Although research in the area of massage and emotional well being is very promising, it is important to remember that massage therapists do not diagnose illness, disease or any other physical or mental disorder. A massage is not a substitute for medical examination, diagnosis or treatment. Please talk with your physician or behavioral health care provider if you are interested in the benefits of massage.

1 Field, T. et al. (2005). Cortisol decreases and Serotonin and Dopamine increase following massage therapy. Int J Neurosci., 115(10), 1397–1413.