Category Archives: Meditation

Research Proves It: Meditation Strengthens Your Brain

human brain on a running machineYet another research study proves the benefits of meditation. Meditation research is hardly unusual.  This study, however, was the first to prove that meditation actually increases brain density—also known as gray matter—in as little as eight weeks!

The study appeared in the January 30th, 2011 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging and was led by senior study author Sara Lazar, who is a Harvard medical school psychology professor. Ms. Lazar and her affiliates at Massachusetts General Hospital took MRI images of study participants two weeks before and after they participated in an eight-week Mind Body Stress Reduction course. They then compared those scans to control group of non-meditators over a similar time period. The meditators self-reported spending an average of twenty-seven minutes per day on mindfulness-based activities during the study.

The results were impressive. Meditators had significant increases in gray matter density in the hippocampus—the portion of the brain associated with learning and memory. They also reported decreases in stress levels compared to the non-meditators. For more information on the study, check out this link at Harvard.edu.

And put that research to the test personally with this simple candle flame meditation.

Enjoy!

Tracy

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PS–all three books in my Downward Dog mystery series are now available!  Learn more at http://tracyweberauthor.com.  Thanks for reading!

 

A Wish for the Holidays

On Thursday I taught my annual Yoga of Thanksgiving workshop at Whole Life Yoga.  This year’s class was special, because it took place so soon after the death of my mother.  Rather than allow my first holiday without parents to be a sad one, I decided to make it a gift. I gave to my students the qualities I was personally seeking during this time of transition.  Our practice revolved around embodying those qualities.

    • Peace: Both existential peace in our often-crazy world and security in ourselves, our homes, and our relationships. Symbolized by our connection to the earth and the root chakra, which is the seat of security and safety.
  • Joy: Which comes from creativity and play. Symbolized by the belly, which houses the seed of all that is creative within us. Joy is so important, because when we have it, we can share it with others.
  • Hope: Which, I believe, comes from courage.  Finding hope during tough times isn’t a gift or a given. It’s a practice that takes concerted effort. Hope, to me, is symbolized by the solar plexus, the seed of confidence and courage.
  • Love: The ability to both give and receive love, not only to others, but also to ourselves. Symbolized by the heart.
  • Faith: This is a loaded word for many, but it represents the ability to connect with something beyond ourselves—something that gives us guidance and helps us strive to be better. It’s symbolized by the crown of the head, seen as the connection point with all that is beyond us.
  • Light: Which provides guidance to find our way in the world, but also serves as a reminder that even in the darkest days of winter, we have within ourselves a clear blinding light. We symbolized that light by reaching our arms out to the side.

At the end of the practice, each student selected one or more stones that I had specially created for that day. Each was engraved with one of the qualities we had embodied in our practice. That stone will hopefully serve as a reminder to live the above qualities on those not-always-easy days outside of the yoga studio.

The true power of yoga lies not in the postures.  It lies in intention.  The meaning we give to our practice.  I hope the Thanksgiving practice helped my students plant seeds that will guide them, not only during the holiday season, but for the rest of their lives.

May those qualities live within you, too.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Preorder my newest mystery, KARMA’S A KILLER, now at Amazon Barnes and Noble or a bookstore near you!

Check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere

A Meditation to Find Joy

woman drop leaves in autumn park

We all have within us the ability to experience joy, if only we remember to look for it. The meditation below is one of my favorite tools for clients experiencing anxiety or depression. I recommend keeping a journal nearby, so you can write down thoughts, ideas, and commitments to yourself when you finish.

  • Sit comfortably, with your spine erect and the crown of your head floating up toward the ceiling. Sitting either in a chair or on the floor is fine, as long as you are physically comfortable.
  • Allow your eyes to close, or if this is too challenging, keep your eyes at “half mast” gazing quietly at a place below and in front of you.
  • Notice your breath—without intentionally trying to change it. First notice the warmth and coolness of the breath as it enters your nostrils. Notice the movement of your rib cage and belly. How does your spine move with each breath? What other sensations can you feel?
  • After you feel comfortable and relaxed, ask yourself the following question:
    • What brings me joy?
  • Don’t try to audit or evaluate the answers that come to you. You may hear words, see images, feel sensations, or experience emotions. Allow whatever you experience to float across your consciousness.
  • After a few minutes, change the question to:
    • How can I invite more joy into my life?
  • Again, there is no “right” response. Sit quietly with whatever comes to your attention.
  • If your attention wanders at any time during the meditation (and it will!) simply notice it, then invite your attention back to the sensation of the breath. When you feel ready, ask yourself the question again.
  • Continue this meditation for 10 – 15 minutes. Note any thoughts, ideas, or personal commitments in your practice journal.

I hope you enjoy the practice!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Karmas a Killer (4)And if you want to show me some love, you can preorder my newest mystery, KARMA’S A KILLER, now at Amazon Barnes and Noble.

Yee haw, yippee, and yahooey!

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere

Sunsets, Suffering, and Finding Peace

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Why is it that every time I write about life’s suffering, I’m thinking about my dog? I adopted Tasha-dog eleven years ago this week. I was missing something in my life, though I wasn’t sure what, exactly.  I had a lovely husband, a fulfilling career, four (yes four!) cats, and lots of friends.

But I was still lonely. I had been pining for a German shepherd for approximately thirty years, since my family rehomed the German shepherd of my childhood. My visions of Tasha were laughable, in hindsight.  Perfectly behaved, she’s not. Healthy, she’s not. Cat loving…well, let’s not even go there. She was everything I thought I didn’t want, but ended up being exactly what I needed, and more.

She is the biggest source of joy in my life.

And the source of my most debilitating anxiety.

The other night, I was thinking about how many times Marc and I have almost lost her, due to the many diseases she’s had to live with or overcome.  Her imminent death has been predicted countless times, by vets I usually ended up firing.

But now that she’s eleven years old in a breed whose average lifespan is ten to twelve, even I have to admit, she’s approaching the sunset time of her life.  In the past three weeks, she’s been plagued by a neurological issue of unknown origin.  It may resolve; it may not. It may stay the same as it is now, or it may decline until we have no choice but to end her suffering.  We continue to do tests, but as of this writing, all is one big unknown.

Oddly enough, the most challenging part of this for me is that her neurological status cycles, and my mental health seems to cycle with it.  One day she seems better, the next worse. One day I’m optimistic and happy, the next, devastated.

The Yoga Sutras clearly predict my suffering. You see, I’m attached to this girl. I hesitate to say she’s like my child, because that’s not how I think of her.  But she is as important to me as any living being has ever been.  And I will inevitably have to say goodbye. I knew that the day I adopted her.  As crazy as it seems, I signed up for this.

My work now, as Tasha and I walk down this sunset path together, is to not be attached to the good days, because the good days won’t last forever.  If I can somehow learn to be present without gripping the good, perhaps I’ll have more peace during the inevitable challenges.

Then again, maybe I won’t.

Maybe grief is simply part of life’s process. Another obstacle to overcome that helps us appreciate the blessings of life while we have them.

Regardless, the Sutras say that meditation helps overcome suffering, so it’s time for me to reignite my practice.  If you care to join me, this is one of my favorites.

If you’re willing, please send Tasha happiness, her doctors wisdom, and me peace.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Karmas a Killer (4)And if you want to show me some love, you can preorder my newest mystery, KARMA’S A KILLER, now at Amazon Barnes and Noble.

Yee haw, yippee, and yahooey!

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere

Relaxing the Writer

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This lovely work has been sitting on my desk for months, waiting for me to take a look at it. The book and its companion CD were developed by fellow writer and yoga teacher, Amber Polo.

Peppered with inspirational quotes, Relaxing the Writer covers topics often ignored but desperately needed by writers of all genres, including:

  • The ergonomics of writing
  • Stretches, including desk stretches,  hand stretches and eye exercises
  • Aromatherapy
  • Meditation
  • “Apps to relax” on iPhones, iPods, and iPads
  • Twenty other activities that can help a writer stay healthy, balanced and productive, including a chapter on yoga. My favorite was the chapter on laughter and smiles. Who doesn’t need more laughter?

Even better, the book comes with audio guides that help uptight writers relax to the sound of Amber’s soothing voice. Unfortunately, I can’t adequately convey the book’s artistic, easy to read, and compact format. You’ll have to check that out for yourself.  Suffice it to say that the book has tons of useful information in an easy-to-digest package.

My favorite quote from the book is an ancient Chinese proverb:

“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”

I highly recommend this book for writers or artists of any type. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere! 

          A Killer Retreat

Making the Most of Your Minute

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Today is my weekly posting for Inkspot, the blog for authors of Midnight Ink.  I hope the visualization practice I share in this article will help my writer friends–as well as my students–to be more comfortable when they have to speak in front of a group or do anything else that makes them nervous.  Check it out!

http://midnightwriters.blogspot.com/2015/04/making-most-of-your-minute.html

Namaste

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere!

Ancient Teachings and Dandelion Seeds

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I wrote this blog article on New Year’s Day, but I couldn’t post it then because of my imminent book launch. Now, as we enter into spring—the season of dandelions—it feels perfect. I hope you enjoy it.

I taught a good class today, but it wasn’t the class I had planned. Superficially, there were similarities to what I had plotted on paper. Quite a few of them, actually. But what makes my New Year’s Day class truly special has nothing to do with the poses. Not even the breath work. Meditation and ritual make the class unique.

I was oddly troubled about this year’s class. I knew the “gift” I wanted to give to my students. I knew the flowers I would arrange and place on the altar. I drew out my sequence and printed out quotes. The day before class, hubby helped me lay out the mats and I lined up the candles. Superficially, I was ready, but something was missing. I’d pulled out my tried-and-true meditations about letting go of the past, but this year they didn’t ring true. I lay awake until well after one am New Year’s Day, still confounded. Eventually, I gave up, convinced that this year’s class would not be my best.

New Year’s Day morning, I walked into the room, still feeling uneasy. I smiled at the twenty-five yogis that were waiting for me, and silently asked their forgiveness for what was sure to be a subpar experience. Then, as I walked toward my meditation rug, an image came to me: dandelion seeds.

I can only believe that the ancients sent that image to me, because suddenly everything about my class made sense. What if we didn’t focus on leaving behind what didn’t work in 2014, but instead reconnected with everything that did? What if, instead of blowing out candles to get rid of the old, we symbolically shared it with the world, like a child sharing dandelion seeds with his neighbors?

I tossed much of my plan aside and taught from my heart. Both of my meditations changed. I changed the breath work. I even changed the asana. The class that seemed heavy and sad became free and light—as did the energy of my students. They even applauded at the end, in spite of my glaring would-never-pass-yoga-court sequencing error. But then again, the sequencing wasn’t the point.

I don’t even know why I feel compelled to write about this. Somehow it seems important to remind my teacher training graduates—and myself—to trust in the teachings and be open to what comes. Sometimes a class plan that worked brilliantly before simply isn’t right. Sometimes the right plan lies just buried in your subconscious.

There was power in that practice. Seeds of hope that we will carry forward and share with our worlds.

What seeds will you plant this spring?

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere! 

Embracing Distraction in Corpse Pose: Answer to a Student Question

A Whole Life Yoga student asks: “How can I tune out snoring and other noises in Savasana (Corpse Pose)?”

This is an excellent question, and it brings me back to the true purpose of Corpse Pose. Corpse Pose isn’t a time of quiet nothingness. It’s a period of active meditation. Snoring is simply another of life’s many distractions, not all that different from ringing cell phones, rumbling lawnmowers, or annoying music. Our reactions to life’s distractions are more about us than the distractions themselves.

Imagine, if you will, a happy yogini—I’ll call her Judy—resting on her back in a blissful Savasana. The man next to her starts snoring. Snoring is simply a sound, neither good nor bad.  The yogini’s gremlin mind, however, makes it all about her.  Oh good Lord, that man is snoring again. Why doesn’t the teacher do something about it? Doesn’t she realize that man is ruining my practice? Left unchecked, Judy’s mind will reel with righteous indignation, as if one man’s cat nap is some sort of attack on her personally. Judy’s practice may indeed be ruined, but I’m not so sure it’s the snorer’s fault.

Instead of your letting your monkey mind take control over you, why not take control over it? There are many different ways to do this, but one of the most powerful is to simply notice. Not the sound that’s distracting you, but your reaction to it. Do you feel irritation? Humor? Embarrassment? Frustration? Whatever you notice, don’t allow your mind to amplify it. Instead, notice the thought; notice the emotion. Then bring your mind back to the feeling of the breath in your body. Over time, you might that the snoring isn’t nearly as distracting as you originally thought.

Remember, yoga is a symbol of the rest of your life. Do you have similar thoughts and reactions to distractions in your daily life? Would your life be more peaceful if, instead of allowing your thoughts to control you, you controlled them?

If you learn how to remain focused during distraction in Savasana, you might notice a ripple effect in the rest of your life.

I hope that helps.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere!

Join the Mediation Party

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Jenny Zenner. Jenny is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program and a promising writer. She  can be contacted at jzenner@gmail.com.

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Toying with the idea of meditating? Maybe you think to yourself, yeah, but it looks like you need all this paraphernalia. I don’t have a puffy cushion or a gong or an auspicious altar. So how can I even begin?

I’ll admit, I’m someone who likes a prop or two. I own a few sets of mala beads including a string of bodhi tree seeds harvested from the mountaintop where the Buddha attained enlightenment.

Guess what…you don’t need all the props. You already have everything you need: your body and your breath. If you are someone who wants a prop or two, I’ll show you how you can take simple household items and make do.

What better time than Mardi Gras aka Fat Tuesday? Mardi is Tuesday in French. Mardi Gras falls on the eve of Lent, the day before Ash Wednesday. It’s a time of closing out winter and inviting spring, clearing out and indulging before a time of repentance. Celebration. Part of that celebration in the New Orleans festival includes tossing strings of beads from floats in parades. Down in the French Quarter those beads are earned by women willing to lift their tops.  Regardless of how you may have come into possession of a set, if you happen to have some stuffed in a drawer or dangling from your rear view mirror, grab them and find a seat.

No party beads? No problem. Pull out your grandma’s pearls, a rosary for you Catholics, or even a string of Christmas lights. If the string you are using doesn’t have a marker on it like a clasp, larger bead, or cross, simply tie a ribbon or rubber band on it so you have a start and end point.

When I meditate with a string of beads, I have a tangible timer. I don’t have to worry if I remembered to set my phone or watch. An annoying alarm doesn’t jolt me out of my meditative state. When I get impatient, I can always take a peek to see how close I am to nearing the end of the string.

Find a comfortable seat in a chair, on the floor, a park bench, or the solace of your car in a parking lot. Hold the string in one hand between your thumb and middle finger (picture holding a pencil). With your thumb on the bead next to your marker, take a breath in and release the breath. At the end of your exhale, let your thumb advance to the next bead and breathe your inhale and exhale. If you find your mind wandering, tell yourself breathing in with your inhale, and with your exhale tell yourself breathing out. Keep it simple, come back to the bead in hand and your breath. Advance until you are back at your marker. Going through my string of 108 beads takes less than 15 minutes. I also have a bracelet with 12 beads for a mini meditation.

Repurpose those party beads for a joyful practice.

Jenny Zenner founded Seeds Yoga www.seedsyoga.com. Based in Seattle, WA, she’s a former addictions counselor turned yoga teacher, recruiter, career coach, and writer, being mindful in as many moments as she can muster as a mom to twin boys. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook and of course connect on LinkedIn.

Yoga Meditation for Childbirth

Please welcome today’s guest , Tess Jones.  Tess is a yoga teacher, freelance writer, and mother of two.  Thanks for joining us, Tess!

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Meditation is a great tool to use during the physical and mental challenges of childbirth. Slowing your breath and focusing on a meditation can calm your mind and allow your body to let the contractions come.

There are many types of meditations. Some guide you to clear your mind and focus on your breath, while others have you focus on a word, phrase, image, or object. Some ask you to sit or lay still, while others may guide you to move your hands or your body. Use what works for you, trying different things until you find something you connect with that brings you to a place of peace, calm, and grounding in your body.

Once you have a few that you like, practice your meditations in the months leading up to your birth so that you feel familiar with them and can recall them quickly. Teach them to your birth partner or doula, since during labor you may not remember to try them.

Below is a short meditation to try at home:

Grounding Meditation for Pregnant Mothers –Hands on Heart and Belly

  • Find a comfortable seat, or lay on your side. Use pillows to prop yourself until comfortable.
  • Take two full minutes to relax. Breathe naturally and evenly.
  • Place one hand on your heart and the other on your belly. Slightly tuck your chin. Fill your heart and your belly with breath on your inhales feeling them rise, and feel them fall on your exhales. Let go of any thoughts that you are holding onto. Feel a sense of inner strength, grounding down, and ultimate peace filling your body. Clear your mind as you calm your body.

If you’re looking for more meditations to try, there are two free downloadable audio meditations on my website circleheartbooks.com. These audio files can be added to your iphone and listened to for a quick calm-down moment during your day. I also have several other meditations in my book Yoga for Birth. Yoga for Birth is available on Amazon.com. It features prenatal poses, meditations, affirmations, philosophy, and more for pregnant mothers and their birth partners. The book was photographed and independently produced in the greater Seattle area.

About the Author

Tess Jones is a freelance writer and mother of two who has practiced yoga since 2002. She has studied hatha, vinyasa, prenatal, and postnatal yoga teaching. Her yoga focuses on mindful movement, self-awareness, and discovering the peaceful, grounded strength within ourselves. Her books and yoga-related articles can be found on her website circleheartyoga.com.

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.   The second book in the series, A Killer Retreat, is available at booksellers everywhere!