Weighty Matters

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4-7-8 Breathing

Weeks, or maybe even a couple of months ago, I first heard about 4-7-8 breathing.  An author I’m friends with talked about using the technique to help her with stress-induced insomnia.  I saw her post about it on Facebook a few times and that motivated me to investigate on the internet.

I’m not prone to insomnia when I first go to bed.  Truth be told, I’m so brain tired by 10-10:30 most nights, I fall asleep on the couch.  There are some nights when I look at the clock and wonder if 9 p.m. is too early to go to bed.

The sleep interruption affects me when I’m dealing with stressful stuff during the day, or have something bothering me and happen to wake up in the middle of the night.  Even if I just wake up for a quick trip to the restroom, if the stressful situation comes to mind, I can’t get rid of it.  I will think about it and think about it non-stop.  Sometimes the same phrase, sentence or conversation just repeats like a thought-hamster on a wheel.  I believe this might be something called “inefficient worrying”.  Honestly, when it happens, it does not accomplish anything positive.  I’m not working through the issue or resolving anything.  I’m just repeating thoughts, creating more stress, and depriving myself of much needed recuperation and sleep.

When I looked into 4-7-8 breathing, I found articles that described it as being helpful for reducing stress and anxiety.  I found a video of Dr. Andrew Weil talking about and demonstrating the technique which, if I correctly remember, originated in yoga practice.  It seemed easy enough so the very next time I experienced that middle-of-the-night hamster-thinking, I tried it for myself.  It worked!  I remember doing it three times and that’s all.

After that first night, I tried it again the next time I couldn’t fall back asleep and achieved the same result.  As I’ve whined about discussed several times, I’ve been experiencing a fair amount of extra stress in recent weeks, so I’ve had ample opportunity to demonstrate that, for me, the 4-7-8 technique isn’t a fluke.

I’ve done some additional investigation into it and have seen some suggest that it might be able to help me with some of my compulsive eating disorder.  For example, if I can be aware enough to do some 4-7-8 breathing when the urge to eat compulsively hits, or even if I’m still wound up when I sit down to a meal, the technique might help me settle before I reach for food.

Every day, I practice the technique at least twice a day, as Dr. Weil suggests. I’d like to develop it as a great and consistent tool.  It would be great if I could train myself to engage in this as a natural reflex.  Actually, I believe that with practice, I can do just that.  Any tool is a good one in this journey.

Do any of you do any kind of meditation or breathing technique?  Have you heard of 4-7-8 breathing and, if so, does it work for you?  I’d love to hear what things you’ve tried and found useful.

In the meantime, if you’d like to read more about it, this link will take you to the place on Dr. Weil’s site where it’s described.  From there you can also click a link to watch the video of his demonstration.


Universe is Totally Messing with My Zen

The monkeys are not only chattering this morning, they are relentlessly gabbing up a freaking loud storm. I’ve discovered that it is not a meditative practice to internally yell, “Shut the f**k up already!” at them. Freaking monkeys don’t listen anyway.

Yesterday I attempted to clean my pool filter. This involves undoing the top of the filter canister and lifting a three foot tall, heavy filter straight up and out. I’ve done it before and had no doubt that I could again, except that my hand slipped and when I dropped the filter to avoid getting a broken hand, some internal rod then got wedged between the canister wall and the filter. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t unwedge the damned thing so now the filter is stuck half in/half out.

This morning, I thought I’d shut off the system before the pump began to run. Wrong. It clicked on at the usual time and as I ran through the house to shut it off, water began to gush up out of the filter canister and flood the driveway. I shut off the system again before too many gallons spewed forth and returned to getting ready for work. Ten minutes later, that persistent fricking timer thing turned the system back on. This time I had to run while holding two dogs on leashes, my lunch bag, backpack, a plate of lemon squares and my travel mug of tea. I managed to shut off the system, again with only the waste of a gallon or two of water, and return everything else, including the dogs, to the house. It was like a mechanical vampire or zombie that refused to stay dead.

Not knowing when the pool man planned to stop by the house to fix the filter issue, I needed to make sure the damned system stayed off. When it doubt, experiment. I unscrewed the “On” lever on the timer that starts the system. This enabled me to push the manual lever all of the way to “Off”. I then waited half an hour to make sure it was not only off but staying off. I finally felt at least semi-confident about leaving for work so I regathered the dogs, lunch bag, backpack and lemon bars, took a deep breath and headed off.

Yes, I called the guy working on my house a short time ago just to make sure that the system had not magically risen from its Off state to flood the neighborhood. All appears to be well.

At work I threw myself into some tasks to regain my equilibrium. Nat and Pyxi are with me in the office again today due to the home remodeling project and an afternoon vet appointment for Pyxi’s regular thyroid check. A short time ago, I discovered a strange pink growth on one of Nat’s legs. Argh. More Zen interruption! Called the vet office and the doctor has time to examine him too this afternoon. Breathe, Mary, breathe. Stay in the moment. I was doing better when I grabbed the broom and dustpan to sweep up some dog hair. When I replaced the broom in its customary spot, I walked into a shelf with my eye. Ohmmm became Oh Effing Eff. That hurts!

Fortunately, I didn’t cut my eye. There’s no blood. I can see with that eye. Hopefully, it’s no more than a temporary bruised state. Speaking of other states, I’m not sure what’s talking more loudly to me at the moment – those damn monkeys, or the lemon bars that I brought into the office specifically so I wouldn’t eat them. (I stress-baked yesterday and knew that I had to get the results out of the house or I would gradually consume them all.)

Okay. Deep breath again. Now that I have spewed my stress over the virtual page of the blog, I’m going to work on centering myself once more. It’s a new moment. A right-now-is-all-that-matters moment. Dogs are okay. Pool is not flooding. I am not blinded. I’m good.

Serenity reigns.

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Chattering Monkeys

Chattering Monkeys is a term we use at Tai Chi for the distracting thoughts that assail our minds. As I learned in a book that I recently read, it’s akin to the term monkey mind that Buddhists use. Call the condition what you want, it indicates not being mindful.

I continue in my quest to become more mindful. My priority is to be mindful and aware about my eating habits, specifically my compulsive eating. When I am not vigilant and aware, I eat things that I don’t want, am not hungry for, and that are not on my food plan.

One of the reasons I love practicing Tai Chi is that it is like meditation in motion. I can be totally present in the practice, focusing on the moves, the flow, the actions of my body as I do the moves. There is very little room for stressful or distracting thoughts when I am focused. When I get distracted, I either don’t do the moves correctly or to their fullest extent for the most benefit, or I lose my place and forget what comes after whatever move I just did. So, quieting those chattering monkeys helps, but it takes practice like everyone else.

Knowing how my meditation in motion benefits me, I’ve lately been interested in learning more about sitting meditation. The closest I’ve come to trying it in the past was to do some deep breathing exercises and, honestly, my mind wanders quickly even when I’m trying to rein it in. In thinking about meditation, it feels like it will help improve mindfulness. Improved mindfulness could lead to more control over the impulse to eat food in compulsive ways.

I recently finished a book by ABC news anchor Dan Harris in which he talks about his journey into self-awareness, learning more about mindfulness, and becoming a meditator. The book is called 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works — a True Story.

I’m glad I bought the e-book on my Kindle, although I would love to see how they fit that entire title on the spine of the book.

I admired Harris’s candor in writing about his life and career including a couple of panic attacks that he suffered while live on the air on Good Morning America, the coke addiction he developed, and his brutally honest assessment of his own personality, work drive, insecurities, etc. When I say brutally honest, I mean it. He all but says that he tended to be an asshole sometimes. I was surprised to find out the things I did about his life off camera. I’ve watched him do tv news for years and never suspected that he had problems with insecurity, anxiety, stress and other issues.

The long and short of the book is that he looked for answers to his problems, exploring various paths and approaches, including the writings of Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, Joseph Goldstein, and others. He ultimately learned that meditation helped him realize all of the things he included in his lengthy book title.

What he experienced in the process resonated with me. Things like responding to situations, not reacting. Taming that voice in my head that triggers poor decisions. And again, the whole idea of mindfulness. This book is my first foray into reading about meditation. I’m going to read more and if any of you are meditators and have suggestions, please share some in comments. In the meantime, I’m working on five minutes a day of simply focusing on my breathing, being in the present, noticing what I’m feeling or hearing and, most importantly, bringing myself back to focus when the chattering monkeys in my head attempt to distract me. Once I can consistently do five minutes, I’ll see if I can extend the time.

In other news, I’ve been away from the blog for awhile, mostly because my living space is in disarray, including my laptop not being set up in its regular position. For several months, I’d planned to get some remodeling work done on my living room/dining room area. I thought it would happen in August, but the guy was available now, so we rushed in and started last week. The dining room walls and ceiling have already been ripped down and rebuilt with new sheet rock, including new insulation where needed. Fast progress. I picked out the trim, crown molding and baseboards I want. I’ve pored over paint options. (OMG, have you ever gone to Houzz.com? It’s like design brain crack! I spent hours looking at room designs until my eyes blurred.)

John just has to prime, paint and do the trim, molding and baseboards and the dining room will be done. Then we’ll rearrange so he can do the other half of the space, which is the living room. It’s a little disruptive but manageable.

I also had an incredibly busy work week. Seems I say that a lot these months. It isn’t super stressful, but there are nights when I just don’t have the brain alertness to blog. On the last blog post I did, I actually fell asleep at the keyboard while writing and typing. When I’m that tired, it’s a challenge to be coherent. Rather than produce drivel, I opted for a few days’ break.

Hopefully my brain will not be as challenged this week. I have some things underway that I think are positive developments and processing them with the blog always helps.

How are all of you?