Tag 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

books available

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

blog (2)

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

Relaxing-Cover-600px-h-optimized-353x436-242x300[1]

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

Ancient Teachings and Dandelion Seeds

fragility

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! 

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!

TessJones_3

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!

 

Inviting Peace to All Parts of Your Life

This is the final of three blog posts that details practices mentioned in A Killer Retreat.   This poem can either be used as a chant, a daily intention, or a mantra for meditation. May we all find peace this holiday season.  

Bench

Like me, my yoga teacher protagonist Kate Davidson wants to live a meaningful life. She wants to be a good person. Heck, she’d even settle for being downright boring every now and again. But that’s harder than it sounds when you’re the prime suspect in a murder investigation.

You see Kate—like most yoga teachers I know–isn’t perfect. Not even close. But when she publicly threatens to strangle a woman who gets murdered less than an hour later…

Suffice it to say that some days Kate should keep her big mouth shut.

Kate is admittedly shaken by both the murder and the accusation, so she practices yoga to remain calm. One of her go-to practices is a beautiful chant I learned almost twenty years ago. Conveying the tune is difficult without teaching chanting notation, but saying the words or mentally reciting them in meditation should be equally effective.

A Poem for Full-System Peace

Anamaya Shanti—May my body have peace.
Pranamaya Shanti—May my energy system have peace.
Manomaya Shanti—May my mind have peace.
Vijnamamaya Shanti—May my personality have peace.
Anandamaya Shanti—May my spirit have peace.
Shanti, Shanti, Shanti—Peace, peace, peace.

There’s nothing magical about the Sanskrit words; the English translation has just as much power. Try setting this intention every day for the next week or mentally reciting it the next time you feel stressed.

I hope it benefits you as much as it does Kate.

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 is available for preorder now. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at book sellers everywhere

Finding Contentment in Uncertainty

In honor of the approaching publication of A Killer Retreat on January 8, the next three blog posts will be devoted to yoga teachings and practices mentioned in the book.  Enjoy!

Forest  path

In a few weeks I’ll launch the second book in my series, A Killer Retreat. Of course, the main plot revolves around solving a murder, but my yoga teacher/sleuth Kate is also faced with a choice: should she put the brakes on her relationship with her boyfriend Michael and risk losing him forever, or should she marry him and risk losing herself? Of course, there are many other options, but those are the only two Kate can see, at least at first.

And it terrifies her.

So instead of making the decision, she does what any moderately neurotic person would do when faced with multiple, irreconcilable options: she avoids all of them.

As you might guess, the strategy doesn’t work very well, at least not for long.  In Kate’s own words, “Ignorance is bliss. Until it isn’t.”

Kate’s dilemma isn’t unique. I know from experience that running away from change only works for awhile, and it’s a short while at that. No matter how fast I run, no matter how far I go, my problems go with me. But what if the actual choices we make in life are immaterial? According to The Yoga Sutras, they may be.

The Yoga Sutras promise  that although there are many potential paths in life and at least a gazillion things over which we have no control, everything we experience–good and bad–is fodder for our growth. If that’s true, then every path we take serves us in some way.

So we can take comfort in knowing that there are no absolutes, only opportunities for our development. If you travel your pathway with mindfulness, focus, kindness and compassion, the destination will always be your true self.

The meditation below may help you find santosha—contentment—in the midst of change.

Many Paths, One Destination Meditation

  1. Close your eyes and bring attention to your breath. Focus your mind on the soft, subtle sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils.
  2. When you are ready, imagine yourself standing at the intersection of several paths, each of which represents a different choice. There is no right choice; no wrong one, either. Only different roads to the same destination. Even though you can’t see it, contentment lies at the end of every path.
  3. In your mind’s eye, stand at this intersection with your feet planted solidly on the earth. Imagine how you will feel when you unite with contentment at the end of your journey. What will contentment look like? Feel like? Smell like? Sound like? Taste like? Involve all of your senses as vibrantly as possible.
  4. For the next several minutes, mentally and physically practice contentment, so that when you begin walking your chosen path, contentment will accompany you.
  5. Continue this meditation for several minutes or however long feels perfect.

Regardless of the paths we choose, may we all walk them in peace.

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 is available for preorder now. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at book sellers everywhere

Three Tips for Practicing Mindfulness in a Multitasking Workplace

A note from Tracy: Publicists send me multiple blind submissions for blog articles every week, and for the most part, I review and ignore them.  But this one caught my eye.  Meditation and  yoga helped me survive my last two years at Microsoft.  You may not be able to make it to the studio every day, but you can practice mindfulness wherever you are–including at work!  I hope you enjoy this article by Dr. Romie Mushtaq.

Headshot 2

Google, eBay, Intel and General Mills offer classes on it. So do Harvard Business School, Ross School of Business and Claremont Graduate University, among other campuses. Mindfulness is not just a corporate trend, but a proven method for success.

Mindfulness – being focused and fully present in the here and now – is good for individuals and good for a business’s bottom line.

How can people practice it in a workplace where multitasking is the norm, and concerns for future profits can add to workplace stress?

“Even if a company doesn’t make it part of the culture, employees and managers can substitute their multitasking habits with mindfulness in order to reduce stress and increase productivity,” says Dr. Romie Mushtaq, www.BrainBodyBeauty.com, a neurologist with expertise in Mind-Body medicine and Mindful Living.

“The result that you and your colleagues will notice is that you’re sharper, more efficient and more creative.”

Dr. Romie says the physiological benefits of clearing away distractions and living in the moment have been documented in many scientific and medical studies.

“Practicing mindfulness, whether it’s simply taking deep breaths, or actually meditating or doing yoga, has been shown to alter the structure and function of the brain, which is what allows us to learn, acquire new abilities, and improve memory,” she says. “Advances in neuroimaging techniques have taught us how these mindfulness-based techniques affect neuroplasticity.

“Multitasking, on the other hand, depresses the brain’s memory and analytical functions, and it reduces blood flow to the part of the right temporal lobe, which contributes to our creative thinking. In today’s marketplace, creativity is key for innovation, sustainability and leadership.

Romie offers these tips for practicing mindfulness in a multitasking business:

•  Focus on a single task for an allotted amount of time. You might say, “For 15 minutes, I’m going to read through my emails, and then for one hour, I’m going to make my phone calls,” Dr. Romie says.

If your job comes with constant interruptions that demand your attention, take several deep breaths and then prioritize them. Resist the urge to answer the phone every time it rings — unless it’s your boss. If someone asks you to drop what you’re doing to help with a problem, it’s OK to tell them, “I’ll be finished with what I’m doing in 10 minutes, then I’m all yours.”

•  When you get “stuck” in a task, change your physical environment to stimulate your senses. Sometimes we bounce from one task to another because we just don’t have the words to begin writing that strategic plan, or we’re staring at a problem and have no ideas for solutions.

“That’s the time to get up, take a walk outside and look at the flowers and the birds – change what you’re seeing,” Dr. Romie says. “Or turn on some relaxing music that makes you feel happy.”

Offering your senses pleasant and different stimulation rewires your brain for relaxation, and reduces the effects of stress hormones, which helps to unfreeze your creativity center.

•  Delegate! We often have little control over the external stresses in our life, particularly on the job. How can you not multitask when five people want five different things from you at the same time?

“Have compassion for yourself, and reach out for help,” Dr. Romie says. “If you can assign a task to somebody else who’s capable of handling it, do so. If you need to ask a colleague to help you out, ask!”

This will not only allow you to focus on the tasks that most need your attention, it will reduce your stress.

“And who knows? The colleague you’re asking for help may want to feel appreciated and part of your team!”

While it is possible to practice mindfulness in a hectic workplace, Dr. Romie says she encourages business leaders to make it part of the company culture. Stress-related illnesses are the number one cause of missed employee workdays.

“Offering mindfulness training and yoga classes or giving people time and a place to meditate is an excellent investment,” she says. “Your company’s performance will improve, you’ll see a reduction in stress-related illnesses and you’ll be a more successful businessperson.”

About Dr. Romie Mushtaq

Dr. Romie is a mind-body medicine physician and neurologist. She did her medical education and training at the Medical University of South Carolina, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and University of Michigan, where she won numerous teaching and research awards. She brings to healing both her expertise of traditional Western medical training and Eastern modalities of mindfulness. She is currently a corporate health consultant and professional health and wellness life coach at the Center for Natural and Integrative Medicine in Orlando, Florida.  She is also an international professional speaker, addressing corporate audiences, health and wellness conferences and non-profit organizations.  Her website is www.BrainBodyBeauty.com.

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!