Volumes II and III of The Book of Good Practices Now Available!

All three ebook volumes of The Book of Good Practices, plus the printed workbook, are now available on Amazon. A preview is available for each volume. Volume II can be found here. Volume III can be found here.

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Portions of all three volumes can also be read online on Goodreads.com. To see the previews, click on Volume I, Volume II, or Volume III and then click on “read book” button below the cover.

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Check them out. We hope you’ll like the ebook editions. …and remember, if you buy a copies, we’d love to have some reviews!

A print version, containing the material in all three ebook volumes, will be available sometime in 2014.

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Volume I of The Book of Good Practices Now Available

Cover_volume_IVolume 1 of the Ebook version of The Book of Good Practices (Learning Mindfulness and Self-Awareness) is now available through Amazon and can be found here.

The next two Ebook volumes of The Book of Good Practices will be available in the next several months. We’ll post another notice when the next one’s ready!

The Ebook version of The Book of Good Practices is divided up into three volumes:

Volume I: Learning Mindfulness and Self-Awareness

Introduction
Attention: Observances and Abstentions
Relaxation and Stretches
Metabolism and Fasting
Breathing
Sense Withdrawal
Concentration
Attention II – Mindfulness
Loving Kindness and Compassion Meditations
Appendix I – Suggested Programs of Study
Appendix II –Additional Resources
About the Authors

Volume II: Neurological Skills for Well-Being and Excellence

Introduction
Changing Habits
Beliefs and Values
Decision Making and Goal Setting
Maintaining and Improving Brain Function
Hemispheric Exercises
Peripheral Vision
Pain Control Techniques
Learning and Mnemonic Techniques
Dreaming and Dream Work
Appendix I – Suggested Programs of Study
Appendix II –Additional Resources
About the Authors

Volume III: How to Empower Yourself and Influence Others

Introduction
Sensory Processing
Anchoring
Trance and Trance Induction Methods
Sensory Processing II – Sensory Sub-Modalities
Sensory Processing III – Sensory Imagination
Sensory Processing IV – The Classical Elements and Subtle Energy
Language Patterns: Clear Thinking, Communication, and Trance
Sensory Acuity
Pacing and Rapport
Patterns for Change
Appendix I – Suggested Programs of Study
Appendix II –Additional Resources
About the Authors

The print version of The Book of Good Practices (available sometime in 2014) will be arranged with the chapters in a slightly different order and will be contained all in one volume.

workbook_coverThe Book of Good Practices Workbook is also available through Amazon in printed form and can be found here. The Workbook contains a month of blank working journal forms and other materials to help you use The Book of Good Practices and record the results of your exercises.

Hemispheric Exercises

This chapter discusses exercises that improve the function of the non-dominant hemisphere or help synchronize the hemispheres. Both forms of exercises can be useful in improving overall brain function.

Cerebral_lobesThe human brain is divided into two halves or hemispheres. Most brain functions are distributed across both hemispheres, but there is notable lateralization, particularly in relation to processing language. Both of the major areas involved in language skills, Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, are in the left hemisphere (for most people). The left hemisphere handles the linear reasoning functions of language, such as grammar and word selection, whereas the right hemisphere handles the intonation, accentuation, and context. Both hemispheres process numerical calculation and estimation, but the left is more exact, the right more approximate.

Both hemispheres process perceptual information, but information from each side of the body is sent to the opposite hemisphere. Both hemispheres, however, receive information from both eyes. One half of the pupil of each eye sends information to the left hemisphere, and one half goes to the right hemisphere.

In general (for over 90% of right-handed people and about 70% of left-handed people), the left hemisphere processes perceptions sequentially, perceives cause and effect, and is more logical and objective. The left hemisphere is analytical, perceiving the parts of things, and it processes normal speech.

The right hemisphere perceives things as a whole, processing information less sequentially and in a more subjective fashion. The right hemisphere is better at visual processing, determining spatial relationships, pattern recognition, and is typically used for hunches and intuition.

The two sides of the brain are connected by the corpus callosum, which transfers information back and forth between left and right hemispheres, allowing the brain to function as a whole unit.
The two hemispheres cooperate by alternating which side is in charge, depending on the task. This is called hemispheric dominance. In a very general sense, hemispheric dominance shifts about every 90 minutes. You can easily observe hemispheric dominance by noticing which nostril is most open. Generally, one nostril breathes more easily while the other is somewhat more constricted. If you pay close attention to this process, you may discover that your state of mind and mood vary according to nostril is most open.
You can deliberately shift hemispheric dominance by closing one nostril and focusing the attention on breathing through the other nostril. For example, to relax or to facilitate sleep, try laying on your right side and breathing slowly through your left nostril.

Use the thumb or index finger of your right hand to close your right nostril. Breathe slowly and deeply for three minutes or until you fall asleep. Lying on your right side will help open the left nostril. If the left nostril remains congested, you can try rubbing a tiny bit of Tiger Balm around the nostril and sinus area. Nostril breathing is discussed more fully in the chapter on breathing.

The following exercises can be used to increase hemispheric integration and to become more aware of and alter hemispheric dominance. Doing any sort of cross-lateral exercise will tend to increase connections in the cerebellum. Increasing hemispheric integration can improve timing, creativity, and general emotional and physical awareness.

Physical Exercises

Most physical exercises that work with balance and bi-lateral movement will improve hemispheric integration. For example, practice marching, moving the same side arm and leg together, and then switch to moving one arm and the opposite leg at the same time. You can also practice other cross-motor patterns such as swinging both arms to one side while lifting one leg to the opposite side. As you do this, turn your head from side to side. Repeat this exercise daily until they feel automatic and natural.

Here are some other exercises that can be useful:

Balance Pose

While this exercise improves hemispheric integration, not surprisingly, it will also improve your balance.
Stand relaxed with your feet together. As you breathe in, bend one leg behind you (raising your foot towards your buttocks) and grasp your foot behind you with your hand. That is, if you raise your right foot, grasp it with your right hand. (Be careful not to strain – it’s a good idea to stretch a bit before starting this exercise.) While you are raising your foot, raise your opposite arm until it is over your head and stretch it backwards a bit, so that your entire body, from the foot on the floor to the arm above your head, forms a gentle curve. Try to synchronize your movement with your breath. While you do this pose, focus your attention on your solar plexus. By the time you have fully breathed in, one foot should be in the hand on the same side and the opposite arm should be raised above your head. Your body should form a slight bow shape with your solar plexus at the peak of the curve.
Hold the breath as long as it is comfortable, then lower your foot back to floor while lowering the opposite arm to your side. Repeat this with the opposite foot. In other words, if you raised your right foot first, repeat the exercise raising your left foot. When practicing the balance pose, perform at least two or three pairs.

Cross-Squats

Start with your feet pointing straight ahead, spread apart at about shoulder width. Grasp your right earlobe with the thumb and finger of your left hand. Cross your right arm over your left arm and grasp your left earlobe with the thumb and forefinger of your right hand.
Still holding both earlobes, breathe in and squat (as far down as you are able), then breathe out as you stand up.
Now, cross your left arm over your right arm and repeat the exercise. Repeat this for about three minutes, continuing to hold your earlobes and synchronizing your breathing with squatting down and standing up. Remember to switch which arm is crossed over which each time you do the exercise. As you get used to this exercise, extend the time to about five minutes.

Tree Pose

Stand with feet apart at shoulder width. Relax and spend a few moments just feeling the weight of your body pressing your feet into the ground. Become aware of your breathing. Fix you gaze on something in the distance in front of you.
Begin to lean onto your left foot. Slowly bring your right foot over to the left and then slide the bottom of your right foot up the inside of your left leg, stopping at your left calf (or, if you are limber enough, the inside of your left thigh). Do not rest your foot on the inside of your left knee since you could easily injure your knee – stop either above or below the knee.
Feel your connection to the ground and slowly reach your arms overhead, keeping your shoulders relaxed (and not hunched up towards your ears). Hold this pose steady for several breaths, then lower your arms and move your right foot back to its original position.
Repeat the exercise on the other side, raising your left foot on the inside of your right leg. As with most exercises that affect one side, always practice in pairs, so that you exercise both sides of the body.

Eagle Pose

Start just as you would to practice the tree pose. Stand with feet apart at shoulder width, relax, become aware of your breath, and fix your gaze.
Bend your knees. Raise one leg and cross it over the other leg. If you have trouble balancing, you can plant your toes on the ground across your other foot. Alternatively, if you are limber enough, hook your foot behind the leg you are standing on.
At the same time, cross your opposite arm over your other arm, past the elbows, and place your palms together. That is, if you crossed your left leg over your right leg, then cross your right arm over your left arm. If you can’t place your palms together, get as close as you can. Hold this pose for several breaths, and then return your limbs to the starting position.
Rest for a few seconds and then repeat the exercise with the opposite arm and leg.

Brain Juggling

Researchers at Oxford University discovered the learning to juggle builds new connections in the brain. After studying a group practicing juggling for 30 minutes a day over a six-week period, researchers found changes in regions of the brain’s white matter related to reaching, grasping and peripheral vision. The following exercise is excellent for improving concentration and hemispheric integration.
First, get a tennis ball and cut a small slit in it. Squeeze the tennis ball so that the slit puckers open and take about two ounces (about 50 grams) of BBs and put them inside the ball. The ball should end up weighing about 100 grams and should make a pleasing sound when tossed. This exercise can be performed either standing, with feet apart at about shoulder width, or sitting in a straight back chair without arms.
Bend your elbows, placing your arms at 90 degrees in front of your body, as if you were holding a tray in front of you and rest the ball in one hand.
Begin tossing the ball from one hand to the other, throwing the ball about four two six inches above your hands. Take your time and stay relaxed. As you get used to tossing the ball from hand to hand, slowly look up toward the ceiling. Finally, close your eyes and return your head to its normal position.
Once you get used to it, toss the ball about once a second or so (or between 30 to 50 times a minute). A metronome can help keep the timing if you have one available.
Continue tossing the ball back and forth for about 10 to 20 minutes. If you happen to drop the ball, do not worry – just retrieve it and continue juggling. During this time you should drop the ball, retrieve it and resume juggling.
As you become more comfortable with the exercise, you can make the exercise more difficult by moving your hands farther apart or throwing the ball higher. It is important to keep the exercise difficult enough to require your attention. The main thing is to keep up a slow, steady rhythm and to keep your eyes closed.
Hemispheric Dominance Exercise
The following exercise allows you to observe hemispheric dominance and to learn to control it.

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As you look at this illustration, cross your eyes so you see a third circle between the black circle and the grey circle. When you get your eyes focused right, the middle circle will seem to have a cross on it.
The farther back you sit, the less eyestrain you’ll feel. Sitting anywhere from 1 to 3 feet in front of the picture usually works best.
Watch the cross on the third circle. Every few seconds, it will change from a horizontal line to a vertical line and back. This is because the hemispheres of your brain are alternating in dominance for this activity. When the right hemisphere is dominant you see the black circle and vertical line on top; when the left hemisphere is dominant, the grey circle and horizontal line are on top.
Look at the illustration again, but this time, try to see just the cross, not a horizontal or vertical line.
Some people’s eyes bother them when they do this exercise. If you find this exercise uncomfortable, you can try this alternate method. Get two toilet paper tubes and look through them at some distant object (as if you were using binoculars) while holding a finger over the far end of each tube so that your fingers make a cross in your field of vision.
Switching Hands
Try using your non-dominant hand to do simple tasks for a few minutes every day. Try this with any movement that you can switch safely, such as holding a fork and knife. If you use a computer, try switching which hand uses your mouse. It can be particularly interesting to spend some time each day writing with your non-dominant hand. Likewise, try drawing with your non-dominant hand. At least initially, be careful driving or using other heavy machinery for a little while after these exercises.
Left-Brain/Right Brain Tasks
For most people, one hemisphere is a bit more dominant than the other hemisphere, and they will tend to excel at what are typically left-brain or right brain tasks. If you are a verbal person, try to spend some time each day drawing. If you are a visual person, try spending some time writing each day.
As with most generalizations, you should take this with a grain of salt (after all, nearly every task uses both sides of the brain to some extent), but here is a list of typical left-brain and right-brain tasks:

Left-Brain
Working with Language
Recognizing cause and effect
critical thinking
Working with numbers
Judging time and sequence
Retrieving facts and naming things
Perceiving details

Right-Brain
Understanding metaphors
Recognizing faces, reading and expressing emotions
Working with color and images
Guessing and using intuition
Singing and playing music*
Perceiving wholes, spatial orientation

* Note that tasks like listening with both ears or judging position are shared with both hemispheres.
For most of us in the modern world, we spend the vast majority of our time on verbal, left-brain tasks. There are excellent exercises available in Betty Edwards’ well-known book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which we can hardly recommend strongly enough. A representative exercise can be found on Betty Edwards’ website here; http://drawright.com/vaceface.htm.

Reading and Writing Mirror Language

A paragraph of mirrored text is shown below. Hold the mirrored text towards the right side of your field of vision. Read the mirrored text as fast as you can and record the time below.

quote_1

Right side reading time____
Now hold the mirrored text directly in front of you. Read it again as fast as you can and record your time below.
Front reading time________
Finally, hold the mirrored text to the left side of your field of vision. Read the mirrored text as fast as you can and record your time below.
Left side reading time______
In general, language is processed by the left hemisphere, but reading and writing mirrored text is a right brain skill. As one might expect, practicing writing mirrored text also improves your ability to read mirrored text.
For the next exercise, get out two sheets of paper and hold a pen or pencil in each hand. Begin by placing both sheets together in the center of your vision and printing the alphabet from A to Z in block letters with each hand. Focus your attention on your dominant hand as you write on one sheet, while your non-dominant hand writes the same thing on the other sheet of paper.
Keep practicing. After a while, you’ll probably notice that your non-dominant hand will begin to naturally write mirror text as you write regular text with your dominant hand. As you begin to be comfortable writing mirrored text, start practicing writing upper and lower case letters. Next, practice writing cursive script in upper and lower case.
Continue practicing until you are able to write mirror text with your non-dominant hand without writing normal text with your dominant hand. After you are comfortable writing the mirror text, read the following paragraph three times just as you did in this first part of this exercise. Hold the mirrored text towards the right side of your field of vision. Read the mirrored text as fast as you can and record the time below.

quote_2

Right side reading time____
Now hold the mirrored text directly in front of you. Read it again as fast as you can and record your time below.
Front reading time________
Finally, hold the mirrored text to the left side of your field of vision. Read the mirrored text as fast as you can and record your time below.
Left side reading time______
You will probably find that, at least on the left side of your visual field, your reading speed is significantly improved.

Becoming Ambidextrous

If you can learn to be more ambidextrous, it will promote both hemispheric synchronization and overall brain growth. Studies have indicated that ambidextrous people are, on the average, more adaptable, more emotionally resilient, and more determined in solving difficult problems.
As you go through your regular day, try to use your left hand more (or your right hand, if you are left-handed) when you pick something up, unlock your door, brush your hair or your teeth, pour a drink, butter bread, open a package, stir your coffee, or do whatever else you do. As much as you can (while not endangering yourself), when you would normally use one hand, use the other. Begin to pay more attention to how you perform movement with your dominant hand and try to mirror those movements with your other hand.
When you have become more comfortable using your non-dominant hand, begin practicing using both hands simultaneously. Try stirring two cups of coffee or tea simultaneously. First, stir both clockwise, then stir both counterclockwise. Try picking up objects with both hands. Try bouncing a ball with both hands or catching two balls at the same time.
As you begin to feel more comfortable, try throwing two darts at a board simultaneously. Try throwing two wads of paper at a waste basket – toss one overhand and the other underhand, and then try reversing it.
Get out two sheets of paper and experiment with drawing two pictures at once, one with each hand. Start with simple geometric shapes and then move on to pictures. Similarly, use two sheets of paper and try to write with both hands at the same time. These last two exercises will probably take quite a bit of practice, but they are well worth practicing on a regular basis.
Throw 2 paper wads at the same time into the same paper basket — one underhand and the other overhand. Throw 2 darts simultaneously at a dart board with both hands. Write with both hands at the same time (review “Exercise — Writing Mirror Language”). Draw a butterfly, a vase or a geometric figure using both hands simultaneously, but keep practicing these exercises.

Bibliography

The Other Mind’s Eye: The Gateway to the Hidden Treasures of Your Mind, Allen C. Sargent, Success Design International Publications, 1999
Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, Daniel J. Siegel, Bantam 2010
Juggling Boosts the Brain, Rachel Jones, Nature Reviews Neuroscience, March 2004
Training induces changes in white-matter architecture, Jan Scholz, Miriam C Klein, Timothy E J Behrens & Heidi Johansen-Berg, Nature Neuroscience, published online October 2009.
Changes in Gray Matter Induced by Learning—Revisited. PLoS ONE, Driemeyer J, Boyke J, Gaser C, Büchel C, May A (2008)
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: The Definitive, 4th Edition, Betty Edwards, Tarcher, 2012
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain Workbook: The Definitive, Updated 2nd Edition, Betty Edwards, Tarcher, 2012
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain website, http://www.drawright.com
The Right Mind: Making Sense of the Hemispheres, Robert E. Ornstein,(Harcourt Brace & Company, 1997
The Master and His Emissary, Iain McGilchrist. Yale University Press, 2009
The 100% Brain Course, Melvin D. Saunders, Creative Alternatives Center, 2001

Maintaining and Improving Brain Function

small__3703707045In recent years, breakthroughs in brain imaging have shown that our brains change, literally rewiring themselves, to adapt to the ways we spend our time. What this means is that when we do certain types of activities, we learn new skills and our brains change to adapt to our activities.

A variety of activities have been shown to help maintain brain functions and aid in healthy aging. One study conducted at the University of California, San Francisco indicated that as much as half the cases of Alzheimer’s disease could be attributed to lifestyle choices and behaviors that can be altered. In order of impact, the risk factors are lower education, smoking, lack of exercise, depression, mid-life high blood pressure, diabetes, and mid-life obesity. Most of the activities that alter these risks are just common sense, such as exercise and a healthy diet.

Through regular practice, it is also possible to change the brain to improve memory, coordination, reflexes, pattern recognition, and many other abilities . To some extent, it is possible to overcome cognitive difficulties such as attention deficit disorder, dyslexia, and even brain injuries resulting from disease or trauma. To what extent is this possible? Well, science doesn’t know how much about how the brain is capable of rewiring itself, or changing its physical structure. Certainly, brain change varies with age, with the individual, the amount of time and effort spent on different activities, and a host of other variables . Perhaps some injuries, some impairment cannot be overcome, some capabilities cannot be increased beyond a certain point, but there is only one way to find out, which is to see how you respond to these practices.

Now, really, every exercise in this book, if practiced regularly, will improve your abilities and cause your brain to change to some extent. In this chapter, however, we’ll mainly talk about things you can do as part of the regular activities in your daily life. Some of these practices help maintain healthy brain function and a few may help improve your brain.

Just like muscles, the brain works on a use-it-or-lose basis. Here are some easy ways to work that grey matter!

• Throw away your calculator. The next time you do your household accounting, use paper or do the calculations in your head. (If you’ve always sucked at math, take your time and check your work, but still give it a try.) When you eat out, figure the tip in your head.

• Do crossword puzzles, word jumbles, and Sudoku. Any games that make you use math or language skills will activate areas of the brain that need regular stimulation.

• Play chess, go, bridge, or other games that require memory and reason.

• Practice grocery shopping without looking at your list. Write your list, but keep it in your pocket when you get to the store. As you walk through the aisles, think about what you are fixing in your next few meals. Try visualizing the shelves in your pantry and refrigerator to see what you need. When you are ready to check out, look at your list to see if you’ve remembered everything.

• Have sex! Apart from the generally beneficial effects that sex has on blood flow, stress, pain, and anxiety, there is some evidence that orgasm may promote the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus.

• Get some exercise. Generally, we need at least two and a half hours of exercise a week. Studies indicate that walking is particularly helpful. As little as a brisk walk for a half hour a day is enough to make a huge difference. Regular exercise will help control weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure, lower stress, improve balance, and promote good sleep, but it will also promote the production of new brain cells and increase brain volume.

• Go back to school and learn something new. Whatever you learn should be difficult, though it doesn’t have to be unpleasant. Learning a new language (particularly a language very different from English, such as Chinese) or a coordinated skill (such as playing a musical instrument) can be particularly helpful. In general, studies show that the more educated your brain is, the better it holds up as you get older.

• Teach a class. Organizing class material and staying ahead of your students can be at least as challenging as taking a class.

• Eat healthy. Obviously, a good diet helps you in many ways, but researchers have found that flavonoids can be of great benefit in maintaining a healthy brain. Here are some of the subgroups of flavonoids and there most common sources:
brain_salt
Flavonoid Food Sources
Anthrocyandins — Berries, grapes, and wines (dark fruits such as blueberries and cherries are especially good)
Isoflavones –Soy, including tofu
Flavones — Parsley, celery
Flavonols — Spinach, peppers, onions
Flavanones — Tea (particularly green tea), coffee, cocoa (dark chocolate), and red wine

Staying well-hydrated helps too. Remember, nearly 90% of the brain is water!

• Get plenty of sleep. We told you a lot of these practices are common sense. You mother probably told you something like this. In any case, it’s important to get good sleep. Sleep deprivation seriously degrades memory and executive function, particularly long-term sleep deprivation.

• Be happy. Smile. Really. Just smiling is enough to significantly influence our mood. Enjoying life, maintaining a reasonably optimistic viewpoint, and expressing positive emotion all seem to have beneficial effects on brain function.

• Seek novelty! The brain loves novelty and will continue to adapt to new learning and experiences until the novelty wears off. Here are just a few of the practices that will help keep your brain fresh and stimulated:

> Use your non-dominant hand to do things as much as possible, such as brush your teeth and put on your clothes. Try spending a few minutes a day writing with your non-dominant hand (though don’t drive or operate heavy machinery for a little while afterwards).
> Shower, get dressed, or do some other simple actions with your eyes closed. Try finding house key and fitting it into your front door lock using only your sense of touch.
> Change your routines. For example, try taking a completely different route to work or the grocery store. Even things as simple as crossing your arms differently or moving your wastebasket from its regular position might be of benefit.
> Learn a new word every couple of days. Find a word you are unfamiliar with in the dictionary. Go over the meaning and think about ways you might use the new word.
> Recite the alphabet backwards. Try this exercise a couple of times a day until you can recite the alphabet backwards as quickly as you can say it in the regular order. Once reciting the alphabet seems easy, pick 20 or 30 affirmations or suggestions and try practicing writing them backwards.
> Try writing your name backwards and upside down. Alternatively, turn this book upside down and try reading the next page from the bottom to the top.

Remember, once the novelty is gone, your brains gets bored and starts coasting, so once you get used to a pattern, find something else to try. There is a limited benefit, however, to sheer novelty. Try to find activities that are challenging. It is particularly helpful to practice activities that use multiple senses or involve coordinating multiple actions.

• Travel. As they say, travel broadens the mind, but it also seems to broaden the brain. Studies show that “life space” – literally, how much you get around outside your house – is a major indicator of how much you are engaging and challenging your cognitive abilities.

• Socialize. This might be the most important point in this chapter. Just as travel helps stimulate the brain, getting out and meeting people seems to play a critical role in keeping our brains healthy. We are built to be social creatures and a lot of our brain power seems to be dedicated to recognizing facial patterns, communicating, and generally trying to figure out other people.

• Try the other exercises in this book. Most of the practices in this book can help keep your brain stimulated and aid in healthy aging.

Take with grain of salt: It is important to note that most mental exercises do not seem to cause generalized improvements. For example, playing a lot of Sudoku will make you better at Sudoku, but it isn’t clear how much that translates to improvements in other activities. As noted in our chapter on memory, the “N back” exercise is one of the few practices that has shown clinical evidence of increasing overall memory function and fluid intelligence. It is mainly the physical practices such as aerobic exercise that have been shown to cause major physical changes in the brain. The exercises in this chapter, however, will help keep your brain stimulated…and there’s a lot of evidence that lack of stimulation and learning is bad for brain function. The exercises described here may not turn you into a genius (if you aren’t one already), but they will help you take advantage of and keep the capabilities you already have.

Bibliography

The Scientific American Healthy Aging Brain, Judith Horstman, Jossey-Bass, 2012

From Development to Degeneration and Regeneration of the Nervous System, editied by Charles E. Ribak et al, Oxford University Press, 2009

Buddha’s Brain: Neuroplasticity and Meditation, Richard J. Davidson and Antoine Lutz, IEEE Signal Processing Magazine, September 2007

The SharpBrains Guide to Brian Fitness, Alvaro Ferdinand and Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, SharpBrians, 2009

Memory enhancement in healthy older adults using a brain plasticity-based training program: A randomized, controlled study, Henry W. Mahncke et al, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, August 2006

Keep Your Brain Alive: 83 Neurobic Exercises, Lawrence Katz and Manning Rubin, Workman Publishing Company, 1998

The 100% Brain Course, Melvin D. Saunders, Creative Alternatives Center, 2001

Beliefs and Values

Gandhi-Our-beliefs-blue1Beliefs and values are integral part of a person’s internal psychology. They motivate our actions and choices, inform how we handle situations, and even determine how successful we are or are not. A belief is an assumption about the world around you that can’t be proven or dis-proven. For example, if you believe in a deity, you can’t prove that it exists, but it can’t be dis-proven either. Some will argue that anecdotal evidence backs up belief, but there is enough conflicting anecdotes with a given belief, that it is better to simply focus on believing what you will and letting others believe what they will. Values are moral beliefs that a person holds. They differ from beliefs only in that there is a morality attributed to them that guides how they are expressed in the life of the person. Belief systems – the collection of our beliefs about ourselves, other people, and the world – are based on our physical nature (such as genetics and state of health), upbringing, education, experiences, and our environment. In this chapter, we’re going to explore all of these, particularly how you can change your beliefs and values.

Your initial beliefs and values are initially formed because of what your parents teach you. Your experiences and the examples of those around you, particularly parents, became the foundation for our assumptions and beliefs about life and our place in it. As you grow up, your beliefs are also shaped by religion, education, and popular culture. Beliefs, however, are recursive. Once you have formed foundation beliefs about the world beyond your immediate physical experience, you tend to find corroborating evidence. The is to say, many of your basic assumptions (whether positive or negative) about yourselves and other people may come true because you are open to supporting evidence and tend to be closed to conflicting evidence. This doesn’t tend to happen with basic physical experience – you may believe you can fly, but if you can’t, you are likely to figure it out fairly quickly. On the other hand, if you believe that most people are basically good and kind or that people are lousy and will step on you if you let them, you can find plenty of evidence for either belief. Many of these beliefs and values can last a lifetime without ever being consciously challenged! It is better,however, to challenge them so that you can consciously decide what beliefs and values really embody your life. Challenging them really means that you explore them in depth and ask yourself why you believe what you believe as well as asking if that belief genuinely benefits your life. Many of the beliefs and values you initially possess are not taught on a conscious level by your parents, religion, education, etc. They are observed and experienced and taken on as a reality because that is the experience you’ve received.

BELIEFOur beliefs affect every aspect of our lives, forming the foundations of our motivations and goals. Our beliefs create our worlds by focusing our attention on what we perceive as possible. If you believe that you are a talented artist, it won’t necessarily make you an artistic genius, but it may motivate you to create art. If you believe that you aren’t good enough to deserve a better job or a fulfilling relationship, you may not spend time looking for them. If you believe that life is a struggle, then life will be a struggle.

Beliefs and values are not set in stone. You can change your beliefs, but the change requires effort, and practical implementation of the belief in your life. This kind of implementation can only occur when you’ve done the necessary work that helps you not only work through the belief but also any associated reactions that could be triggered by trying to change the belief. A belief can be changed, however, and when it is changed, it consequently changes how you live your life and respond to situations that occur in it. A conscious approach to life and, indeed, to your values and beliefs, is a much more proactive and better way to live your life.

Techniques for Changing Beliefs

If you are going to change a belief or sets of beliefs there are a variety of techniques you can use. We want to also recommend that you work with a therapist as you work on making some of these changes, because you may find that in the course of working on a belief that emotions and memories come up that need to be addressed with professional help. In such a case, it’s a good idea to work with a therapist, who can provide an objective perspective.

Meditation

Meditation can be used to work with beliefs and values. When using meditation for that purpose, the goal is not to empty your mind, but rather to focus on the particular belief that you want to work on. Breathing meditation can be useful for this work, because it involves you using breathing to identify areas of subtle tension in the body. These areas of tension can be thought of as physiological and emotional blocks that need to be worked with, in order to dissolve them. When using breathing work for this purpose, you may find that memories and emotions come up that have been repressed. That can be a good time to feel the emotions and work through the memories. We recommend doing Taoist water breathing meditation.

With Taoist water breathing meditation, you breathe through your nose, while touching the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. You want to breathe as fully as possibly, down to your diaphragm. When you breathe in, feel your attention (as a feeling of internal energy) move up the front of your body to the crown of your head. When you exhale, let the energy flow down into your body. You may notice places of resistance when you do this. You can direct your internal energy to those places, but don’t try and force them to dissolve. Focus on letting your energy flow around the blockage, gradually dissolving it, like water melting an ice cube. If you feel emotions come up, allow yourself to feel them. You may find yourself going through an internal dialogue with the issue or belief you are working through, which can be helpful as a way of exploring the power that issue or belief has in your life.

While the Taoist Water meditation technique is helpful in the way I described above, it’s not necessarily as focused on a specific belief as you’d like. Another meditation technique, called pathworking, can be helpful because it can be more targeted. Pathworking is essentially a form of hypnosis that can be used to create a guided meditation that walks you through past memories or symbolism that represents a specific belief you want to work with. Typically, pathworking uses scripts to create a virtual reality with which you can interact. You use that virtual environment to work with the belief that you have and make changes to it. Focusing on pathworking is beyond the scope of this book, but we recommend Magical Pathworking by Nick Farrell. It provides a thorough explanation of pathworking, plus scripts that you can use for internal work.

Meditation may not be the technique that works for you. Fortunately, there are other techniques that can be used to work through your beliefs.

Well Formed Outcomes

Well formed outcomes is a technique that is typically used in goal setting, but can also be applied to examining your beliefs, and how those beliefs are brought out in your decision making process. Below are a list of questions that are used in the well formed outcome technique:

logical_levels_400What do I want? What don’t I want?

I will know that I have what I want, when I…(be as specific as possible about what you will experience when you have what you want)

In what context will I have what I want?

Is the desired outcome completely within my control? Why or why not?

Is this outcome really best for me and the balance of my life? How will the outcome effect my life?

Is my desired outcome completely desirable? Is there any consequence I don’t want, that could occur?

What stops me from having it right now?

What will happen if I don’t achieve my desired outcome?

What is the first step I will take to achieve my desired results?

While all of these questions can be used to explore a goal, they also can be used to explore how your beliefs are showing up to either support or hinder the achievement of that goal. Answering the questions above can help you explore your beliefs further, in terms of how they are expressed in your life. Well formed outcomes use an ecological check, which allows a person to check on their thoughts, emotions, behaviors, communication, and belief as it relates to the desired experience. Performing this ecological check can help uncover areas of resistance that need to be resolved before you seek your desired outcome.

Read Books and do the Exercises

Read books that express different beliefs than your own and do the exercises in the books. This can be an excellent way to explore your reactions to other beliefs, as well as test your beliefs in relationship to beliefs that run counter to your own. One of us chose to read books on money and mindsets as a way to explore his beliefs and reactions to money and was able to get rid of beliefs he’d learned from his family that caused him to struggle with finances. Doing the exercises in a book that offers a different set of beliefs can widen your perspective and critically examine your own beliefs in light of what you have read. We can’t emphasize enough just how useful this practice can be. (Of course, we suggest starting with this book!)

Framing Limiting Beliefs

Sometimes framing a belief from different perspectives can be helpful in exploring it and realizing how you might change it and/or how it is limiting you. This technique uses past, present, and future perspectives to look at the belief as well having you examine it from your perspective, an objective observer’s perspective, and another person’s (your choice of whose) perspective. To make this exercise work, create the following table on the ground or visualize it on the ground.

______________Past__________Present___________Future
Other
Self
Observer

Each combination represents a specific perspective. When the person moves into a space, he or she should assume the persona of the perspective he or she wishes to explore. For example, if you moved into the space for Past and Observer, you would assume the perspective of the observer looking at past occurrences of your belief (perhaps even the origin of it). When you move into a new space, you literally shake off the old perspective before becoming the new perspective. For example, you might move from past-observe to future-other You’d shake off the past-observer perspective by shaking your body for a few moments and then quiet your mind and body and allow yourself to assume the physical posture and ontological perspective of the future-other.

These different perspectives can offer a message or belief that allows you to critically examine the limiting belief you want to change. You test your belief by examining it from multiple perspectives. Repeat this process through all the positions. You can do it with a partner who asks questions or you can do it on your own. If you don’t want to use the table above you could also create a form such as the one below:

Space/Time position: Past / Present/ Future (Circle one)
Perspective: Self / Other / Observer (Circle one)

Who is speaking to you and what is he or she saying?

How would you like to respond to this message?

What does this message tell you about your belief?

Stories and Beliefs

Stories can be another way to explore beliefs, especially when it is your stories that you are using to examine your beliefs. Every person alive tells stories, and likely tells them every day. Every time you tell a joke, or tell someone about your day, you are telling a story. The exercises we will explore in this section can help you leverage your stories to explore your beliefs.

One method you can use is to create a timeline of stories that represent incidents where a limiting belief has limited you in negative ways. The first step involves identifying the type of internal resource you want to draw on to help you change the limiting belief. Describe the resource and limiting belief in detail. How does the belief show up in your life? How does it limit you? How will the resource help you change it.

The next step involves imagining a timeline in the room. Imagine where the past and future is. You might even create a physical representation of the line and draw or place it on the floor.

Move yourself to any part of the timeline and visualize the story about the limiting belief. How did it limit you? How were you held back? Once you answer those questions, think of an internal resource or new belief that could change your limiting belief and the situation. What resource do you draw on? How does it change the situation? Retell the story, with the resource included in the telling. Repeat this anywhere on the timeline.

When you get to the present moment, consider how you will implement the resource into your life. How can you use new resource to change the limiting belief so it no longer gets in your way? Move into the future and tell stories of how you will use the resource to help you whenever the limiting belief comes up. Repeat as many times as necessary. This exercise is useful in helping you work through a limiting belief and see how changing that belief can change your life.

Another technique you can use allows you to examine beliefs from a place of doubt, so that you can come to a point where you no longer believe them. Much as with the other techniques described above, you’ll want to create a floor space with six different positions, where each of these positions has an associated physiological stance:

Currently Believe – The body is aligned, hands at side, weight evenly distributed
Open to Doubt – One hand on hip, the other hand under chin, one hip is cocked
Used to Believe – closed posture, arms folded
Open to Believe – Hands open and palms up, head to the side
Want to Believe – Hands open and palms up, head to the side
Trust – The other 5 should surround trust. Trust has an open stance, with open hands, looking upward, and relaxed

Each state provides a different perspective you can use to explore your limited belief.

When you enter into each perspective, adopt the physical expression of that perspective. Start in the “Want to Believe” space. What is the new belief that you want to believe? Once you’ve captured this belief in your mind, move to the “Open to Believe” space. Use this space to feel what will help you become more open to taking this belief on as a reality. When you feel it’s time, move into the “Currently Believe” space.

If any conflicting beliefs or emotions come up in the “Currently Believe” space, bring them with you to the “Trust” space. What are the positive intentions and purpose behind the new belief and the old limiting belief? What changes, if any, do you need to make to the new belief? Are there any parts of the old belief that you want to keep and how will you integrate them into the new belief?

When you are ready, step into the “Open to Doubt” space and look at both sets of beliefs. What are you open to doubting about them? Whatever you are open to doubting about the beliefs, take it with you to the “Used to Believe” space. Place whatever you doubt into that space. It is now part of the museum of old beliefs.

Step back into the “Currently Believe” space and focus on the new beliefs you want to strengthen in your life. Allow yourself to confidently feel the new beliefs and visualize them joining to your body, becoming part of your life. Finally, move back into the “Trust” position. Consider the changes you’ve made and remember that they are part of a natural process that each person goes through.

Each technique discussed in this chapter can be used to work with limiting beliefs. A belief isn’t changed by simply wishing it gone. You need another belief to fill the void. These techniques can help you develop conscious beliefs that help you navigate life more smoothly, but don’t too complacent with your new beliefs. Check and recheck them as needed. Beliefs can and should be changed as needed. When you get too attached to your beliefs, they can become dogma, and create their own reactions. Never stop asking, “Is my belief serving me or am I serving my belief?”

Another Belief Change Technique

Here’s a method that use representational system sub-modalities to help you alter limiting beliefs. (For more information about using sub-modalities, refer to the chapter Sensory Processing II.)
Identify a belief that limits you or reinforces a negative image. Imagine a situation that involves this belief. See, hear, and feel yourself exhibiting a behavior that embodies the limiting belief. Notice the sub-modalities that define your representation of this behavior and write them down in your working. That is, notice the qualities of the images, the sounds, and the feelings that are unique to holding this belief.

Now, identify a useful belief, a positive belief that empowers and strengthens you. Imagine yourself doing something you do really well, something that embodies this positive belief. Examine the sub-modalities, just as you did with the previous belief, and write down the critical elements of how you represent it to yourself.
Compare the two representations, noting the differences between the sub-modalities. Notice the size of each image, where the images are located in relation to you, whether the images move, the qualities of their colors, and so on.

Push the image of the limiting belief away from you until it is just a tiny dot. Next place it into the same position as your positive belief, and then move it back towards you. As you do move the image closer, shift the sub-modalities of the negative belief to match the sub-modalities of the positive belief. See yourself in the original situation where you exhibited the unwanted behavior, but this time acting effectively, handling the situation the way you would want to handle it.

Induce a trance and amplify the sub-modalities associated with your new, more-empowered state. (For more information about trance induction, refer to the chapter on trance.) When you believe you have most strongly identified the feelings associated with the new belief, anchor it by pressing a knuckle, squeezing two fingers, or using some other uni8que anchor, so that you can more readily access this state when you need it. (For more information about how to do this, refer to the chapter on anchoring.)
Return from trance, bringing your new capabilities with you and understanding that you can access this state when it is appropriate.

Changing Habits

Here’s part of the draft of the chapter on changing habits and behaviors. As always, we’d like to know what you think and here about potential new sources.

* * * * *

The mindfulness practices described in the last chapter are important – mindfulness can literally save your life – but, often, people just want to know how to build good habits or get rid of bad habits.

A habit is a recurring behavior, often unconscious, acquired through repetition. Much of human behavior is habitual if not hypnagogic. Actions that are very familiar to us can be performed automatically, freeing our attention for other purposes, but potentially reducing our behavioral flexibility. Once established, an unwanted habit can be difficult to change. Often, we have heard that the inability to change a “bad” habit is a moral failing or indicative of a lack of will. Many recent studies, however, show that habitual behavior is frequently much less under our control than we would like to believe, as much of what prompts habitual behavior is physiological responses to stimuli.. Most people find it very hard to change unwanted habits by direct attention and will., because that effort alone doesn’t directly deal with the physiological responses, which also need to be worked with in order to effectively change a habit. Luckily, recent studies have also looked at people who are unusually successful at creating and changing habits and have discovered some basic patterns.

Researchers from the University College London studied how people formed new habits, such as eating a piece of fruit with a meal or doing a 15 minute run each day. On the average, study participants reported a steady increase in automaticity, plateauing after 66 days. That is, after a little over two months, most of the people found that the new behavior was as much of a habit as it was ever going to become. The time it takes to establish a habit seems to vary depending on the individual (some people are neurologically more habit resistant than others are), repetition, motivation (reward), belief (it is important to believe that change is possible), and the complexity or difficulty of the behavior. Researchers found that missing a single day does not reduce the chance of forming a habit. It also seems easier for many people to change as part of a group.

Most people find it most effective to make one change at a time. As mentioned above, the average time for making a simple change in daily behavior is a little over two months. As the saying goes, your mileage may differ, but a good rule of thumb would be to devote about two months before trying to move on to a different behavior change.

Understand your motivation. Habits are examples of stimulus-response learning. This means that there is a cue, which triggers the habitual behavior (the response), followed by a reward. All established habits have some sort of reward or we wouldn’t continue the behaviors. Rewards can include pleasure, of course, but also relief from stress or discomfort. It’s important to recognize that the reward is, in and of itself, a physiological change, which is why habits are so powerful. The experience of pleasure isn’t just a feeling. It is a physiological response, and that response is something your body comes to crave on not just a conscious level, but also the physiological level.

To establish a habit, you should choose a simple clue and the behavior should result in a clear reward that you come to anticipate. That is, the cue must trigger your craving for the reward.
All habits have roughly the same structure; a craving triggers the habitual behavior and that provides a reward. In the case of a “bad” habit, the cost of the reward outweighs its benefit. Changing a habit requires that you understand what triggers the behavior and what reward it provides. It is important to identify the craving correctly. It’s also important to consider how you will work on the physiological level to change the habit. It’s not just a matter of changing the behavior, but also changing the physiology supporting the habit.

Once you are sure you know what craving triggers a habit you want to change, try linking the craving to different routines and rewards. After trying the new routine and reward combination, wait fifteen minutes or so. Do you still feel the original craving? Habits cannot be eradicated, but they can be replaced. The cue and reward connected with a habit can be linked to a different behavior. To change a habit, you must consciously substitute new behavior for the old behavior and it must provide a reward that is at least as satisfying as the reward provided by the behavior you are trying to change.

file000264054481On the physiological level, do meditation on the habit, and work on rewriting the physiology. You want to work with the Basal Ganglia in particular, as it is the part of the brain that automates the physiological response to the habits. You may find it useful to journey to that part of your brain and then visualize the habit you want to change. Observe the neural pathway for that habit. Next visualize the new habit you want to use to replace the old habit, and while you are visualizing it, redirect the neural pathway to a different neuron that you’ll map the new habit to.
If you find a routine and reward that satisfies your original craving (and is, hopefully, more desirable than the habit you are trying to change), you can try using it to change your old behavior. If you still feel the original craving, then continue experimenting with different combinations of routines and rewards.

When you’ve found a routine and reward combination that satisfies the craving, the next step is to identify the cues associated with the craving. Generally, cues (triggers) for behavior can be described as a combination of the following factors:

• Location
• Time
• Emotional State
• Other People
• The immediately preceding action

Once you have identified the cue, you can insert your new routine. You should have a plan to implement your new behavior. This requires a commitment to be aware of the critical cue and to substitute the new routine for the old habitual behavior.

Once you have your plan in place, it is important to rehearse it your head, imagining yourself experiencing the cue and implementing the new behavior. For most people, repeatedly telling themselves to do the new behavior is not that effective. The more fully you can imagine the cue situation and the new behavior – the more you can imagine how doing the new behavior will look, feel, and sound –the more readily you will remember to implement the new behavior when the real situation comes up. Supplementing this visualization with the visualization of your physiology, and specifically redirecting the neural pathway to the new habit, can also help with changing your habits. Doing these two activities in tandem will provide the necessary momentum to change a bad habit into a good habit.

Controlling Nervous Habits

Studies have shown the following method to highly effective for stopping nail-biting, hair-pulling, tics, stuttering, thumb sucking, and other nervous habits. They obtained 90% reduction in the habit the first day, 95% reduction within the first week, and 99% after month of practice.

The method consists of learning to substitute an acceptable but incompatible action in place of the unwanted behavior. The new behavior should interfere with the bad habit, but not with anything else. It should not be noticeable by anyone around you, but should be something you are very aware of as well as something you can do for at least three minutes. For example, grasping something like a pencil can be substituted for hair pulling or nail biting. Anything that prevented the unwanted behavior could be used; conscious breathing in the case of throat clearing, brushing the hair for hair pulling, and so on.

Practice the new response five to ten minutes every day for at least a week. Spend some time imagining how and when you can use the new response. After you’ve practiced the behavior, the new response must be used for three minutes every time any of the following situations occur:

• you find yourself doing the old behavior
• you feel the urge to do the old behavior
• you enter a place or situation where the old habit frequently occurred
• you realize you are doing something that often precedes the unwanted behavior

Careful self-observation is required to discover the situations, activities, and people that trigger the bad habit. It is important to practice relaxing in the habit producing situations, and practicing replacing the old habit with the new response.

Other Approaches to Changing Habits

In general, most approaches to changing habits involve some combination of the following methods:

• Replacing the old behavior with a new behavior (substitution) – As described in the last few pages, this approach involves identifying the cue and deliberately substituting a new response. To be effective, however, the new behavior must provide substantially the same reward as that provided by the old behavior.

• Repeating the behavior until a negative response occurs – Essentially, repeating the behavior until one is so sick of it that the original response is replaced by repulsion.

• Changing location or situation to remove the trigger (interruption) – Avoiding the triggers for a particular behavior can help provide space to establish new behaviors. Typically, this means avoiding the situation or location where an unwanted habit occurs.

• Gradually introducing the cue that triggers the behavior (desensitization) – The idea is that by exposure to just a tiny bit of stimulus at a time, someone can learn a different response to the cue.

• Punishing the behavior (aversion) – In this, the most traditional approach to behavior change, negative consequences are associated with the original behavior. By itself, this method has never been that successful, mainly because it does not provide alternative behavior that satisfies the original intent of the unwanted behavior.

Specific techniques using the approaches described above are described later in this book. As with most things, it is important to use common sense with any of these methods.

Stretches and Relaxation

We are nearing an initial first draft of the book, so we’ve got a lot of material to catch up adding to this site. Here are some portions of the the third chapter. As always, comments and suggested additions are highly appreciated

Physical Practices
The importance of having a set of physical exercises and stretches can’t be emphasized enough. Just as it is important to exercise the mind, it is also important to exercise the body. In fact, by exercising the body, you do exercise the mind, and also neural patterns of the brain. Physical activities not only keep us grounded, but can also refresh us, keep us limber, and otherwise feeling great. A good physical routine will include stretches and some form of exercise which will help you feel physically fit and sharpen the awareness of your mind. Below, we present some easy stretches and exercises you can do to enliven your day.

(The actual book chapter contains a description and picture of the yogic warm-up, the Surya Namaskara (literally “Sun, I greet you.”) here. It doesn’t fit in this post very well, though we might add it as its own post later. Do a search and take a look around the web, though. The Surya Namaskara is one of the best single stretch routines around.)

Relaxation Exercises

Body Awareness
One of the goals of nearly all systems of self-development or spiritual growth is to increase sensitivity or self-awareness. The following exercise will help you to practice being still, silence internal dialogue, and pay more attention to your body.

Sit comfortably in a straight-backed chair, or lay flat on your back in bed. To begin with, merely observe what your body is doing and how you feel. Watch your body, and try to pay more attention to its sensations and feelings here and now.

For the time being, do not consciously try to relax, to breathe in any special way, or try to control your thoughts. Just try to become conscious of any sensation that arises anywhere in the body.

Move and stretch for a few moments until you find the position that seems most comfortable. Once you’ve found your position, try not to make any voluntary movement for the remainder of your practice session. You should try to comfortably remain as still as possible, down to the smallest movements of your fingers or toes. Initially, practice for around ten minutes, but over a period of around a month, extend your practice to about half an hour.

Some people may find a strong urge to wiggle, but try to resist. Pay particular attention to the areas of your body that seem to exhibit the most need to move or that seem to hold tension.

As you learn to stay still for longer periods, practice maintaining your awareness. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back.

As you sit or lie quietly, you may start to feel an itching of the scalp. Leave it alone. Relax and do not scratch. Just watch. After a few moments, the itching may die down and disappear, or else your attention may be distracted by a sensation somewhere else. You may become conscious of your back settling down into the bed or chair. Just observe this process, trying only to become more aware of the sensations in your body without trying to block any out or change them.

Don’t think about it or make any judgments about your observations, just notice. Try not to think whether any of these sensations are comfortable or uncomfortable, pleasurable or painful.

Just watch as sensations in different parts of your body come and go.

Some people may find it useful to verbalize audibly what they feel. The act of describing what and where one feels occupies the critical faculties and allows the people to more deeply relax.

A profound relaxation can develop just by watching. Do nothing but observe the rise and fall of sensations without trying to modify them. Over time, regular practice of this exercise will substantially increase mindfulness and self-awareness. The ability to maintain a calm self-observation is critical to learning the practices described in the remainder of this book.

Start practicing now. You can practice it wherever you happen to be, at any time, and in any place. No special time need set for this exercise, but retiring at night or waking in the morning are both good times to practice self-awareness.

You can extend this practice to anything you do during the day, particularly actions that you normally perform unconsciously. While performing one’s daily bathing, washing, shaving, applying makeup, dressing, or whatever, one can use the opportunity to sharpen one’s perception of what one is doing to become more conscious of the smallest and previously insignificant sensations.

Practice this exercise at least twice a day for at least a month.

Relaxation
For this next exercise, use whatever position you’ve used for the previous exercises – you can lay flat or sit upright. If you use a sitting position, be sure to use a stiff-backed chair that maintains an erect spine.

If you will be lying down on a couch or bed, the mattress should be moderately firm. If your mattress is too soft, you may prefer a well-carpeted floor.

Before lying or sitting down, try a couple of short exercises to prepare yourself. First, spend a couple of minutes skipping with an invisible rope in a stationary position. This exercise enhances the blood circulation and stimulates deeper breathing, but because of the alternate contraction and relaxation of muscles, it also helps you prepare for practicing relaxation techniques.

Next, stand upright with your legs about a foot apart. Inhale, and then expel all the air as you let yourself bend forward from the waist without bending your knees. This exercise is similar to the calisthenic toe-touch exercise you’ve probably done in the past, but remember that your goal is to relax. Let your body above the waist fall bend with your exhalation. Allow your fingers and hands to dangle near your feet for a second or two; then, as you inhale, slowly rise up to your standing position. You should also relax your head and neck as you exhale, while letting the upper body bend from the waist. This will help stretch and relax the neck musculature. Repeat this exercise at least a dozen times.

As you warm up, keep your mind focused on your body sensations. Observe how you feel without getting distracted by other thoughts.

Now, to begin the relaxation exercise proper, take several few very deep breaths and, as you exhale, sigh heavily. If you relax your diaphragm and abdominal muscles, most of the musculature and other tissues supplied by the involuntary nervous system will relax as well.

Stay quietly in your current position for a few seconds. Observe yourself, noticing how your body feels.
During the next part of the exercise, you will use your imagination to extend the boundaries of your awareness.
Concentrating on any part of the body will increase the blood flow to that part of the body. By using your imagination, you can stimulate vasodilator fibers that relax blood-vessels enabling greater circulation. The increased blood-flow raises the temperature of the area, which in turn will induce more muscular relaxation. In general, this type of practice is referred to as autogenic training.
Now, visualize your brain. You don’t have to visualize it in great detail, but you’ve probably seen enough pictures to know roughly what your brain looks like – it’s a mass of convoluted white and gray matter, divided into two lateral hemispheres, with back-brain, mid-brain, and fore-brain regions. If you can’t imagine this, spend a few minutes looking at a picture online or in a reference book.

Picture your brain as you’ve seen it in pictures or illustrations. Concentrate on this image until you begin to sense a warm feeling spreading out from the center of your skull. Perhaps, you will also feel a gentle tingling or a pins-and-needles sensation.

Imagine that the blood-vessels within your brain have dilated enough to hold larger amounts of blood, thus turning your brain pink, and that as this happens, you feel an increased sensation of warmth.

Next, focus your attention on your eyes, imagining that these are like two balls, each hanging from four tiny muscular chains.

Just as you did before, assemble a picture in your imagination showing the blood vessels in the muscles becoming enlarged and holding more blood. Feel the increased circulation warming the surrounding muscles. As your muscles relax, you should have the sensation of your eyeballs sinking back into their sockets.

It is important to maintain your attention while practicing these relaxation exercises. Don’t let your mind wander from what you are doing and the area you are relaxing. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back.

Repeat the previous procedure with the rest of your head. Visualize the warm blood moving to your temples, ears, cheekbones, and then to the nose, mouth, lips, tongue, jaws, and chin. As before, you will feel increased warmth and tingling that spreads into profound relaxation.

At this point, you should have spent at least ten minutes on this exercise and much of your body should be considerably more relaxed.

Take your time and continue the process with your neck, shoulders, and arms. When you reach your abdomen, slow down and take extra care. The more you relax your abdomen, the more tension will be released throughout your body.

Finally, imagine your blood flow from your aorta separating into two powerful arterial streams descending from the pelvis into the thighs, legs, and feet. Take time to visualize your thigh and leg muscles in as much detail as possible. You may want to find a used copy of Grey’s Anatomy to help build your images. Continue moving your attention downward until you reach your toes, then pause.

Note how you feel now. Working with the previous body awareness exercise should have increased your ability to sense your body. Take a few moments and try to consciously enjoy a sense of pleasure and freedom and, while you do this, think of the word “relax”. If you pay enough attention to this state of relaxation, you will be much more able to retrieve the feeling later on just by thinking of this experience.

Later on, when you next want to relax, take a deep breath, exhale, and think of the word “relax” and try to remember your feeling of complete relaxation. Inhale again, and as you breathe out, mentally command yourself to relax. With continued practice, you can train this conditioned reflex to be immediate and complete. Practice this exercise for at least a half-hour at a time, preferably twice a day.

Sitting Still
Learning to sit quietly is an important skill required for many more advanced mental exercises. Learning to become physically still will be of great help if you want to become more aware of what your mind is doing.

Sit somewhere comfortable, with your spine straight, at a level so that your knees form a right angle, and rest both hands lightly on your thighs. When you first begin practicing this exercise, you can rest your back against the back of your chair. However, as you become more comfortable with the exercise, try to sit relaxed without support.

Set a timer or an alarm clock to sound in about five minutes. Close your eyes and try to become aware of your whole body. You may notice some tension nervous energy, but try to stay evenly focused on your entire body while keeping your breathing slow and relaxed. When you can sit for five minutes without noticeable tension or effort, add a minute to your practice. Practice this exercise daily until you can sit quietly and comfortably for at least thirty minutes.

When you practice this exercise, be sure to always sit in the same position. In the long run, it is important to adopt a regular posture that your body will associate with relaxation and stillness.

Open Awareness Exercise
The following exercise is very simple, but has profound effects if practiced regularly. Essentially, it involves trying to perceive and imagine the space between different parts of your body and to become aware of any tension or feelings in those spaces. For this exercise to be the most effective, you should spend at least 15 seconds in each area. For example, try to feel the space between your temples for 15 seconds, and then try to feel the space between the tip of your nose and the back of your head, next try to feel the space between your ears, and so on. It is most important to take your time.

You can use the following list, pausing between reading to feel each location. If this seems too distracting, you might try recording yourself reading the list aloud very slowly, giving yourself at least fifteen seconds at each spot. Now, can you imagine the space…

Between your eyes
Between your ears
Inside your throat
Between your shoulders
Between your hips
Between your thumb and the and first finger on each hand
Between your first and middle finger on each hand
Between the middle and fourth finger on each hand
The space between all your fingers
The spaces inside all your fingers
In the region between the tips of your fingers and your wrists
Between your wrists and your elbows
Between your elbows and shoulders
Between your shoulders and the space inside your throat
Between your shoulders and your ribs
Inside your shoulders, arms, and hands
Between your toes
Between your arches and your ankles
Between your ankles and your knees
Between your knees and your hips
Between your hips and your buttocks
Inside your hips, legs, feet, and toes
Between your genitals and the base of your spine
Between your genitals and your anus
Inside your lower abdomen
Inside your lower back
Inside your body from the diaphragm down
Inside your diaphragm
Inside your bladder
Between your kidneys
Inside your kidneys
Between your navel and your backbone
Inside your stomach
Inside your rib cage
Between your ribs
Between your shoulder blades
Inside your breasts
Between your breast bone and your backbone
Between your shoulders and your ribs
Inside your neck
Between your shoulder blades and your chin
Inside your lungs
Inside your bronchial tubes
Inside your throat
Inside your nose
Between the tip of your chin and the inside of your throat
Between the space inside your throat and the space inside your ears
Between the space inside your throat and the top of your head
Between the space inside your throat and the space behind your eyes
The space inside your jaw
The space below your cheeks
The space below your ears
The inside of your mouth
The inside of your tongue
The inside of your teeth, gums, and lips
Between your upper lip and the base of your nose
The space around your eyes and behind your eyes
The space in your nose and sinuses
Between your eyes and the back of your neck
Between the bridge of your nose and back of your head
Between your temples
Between your forehead and your brain
The space inside your brain
Between your brain and your spine
The space inside your whole face and head
The space inside your whole head, chest, arms, hands, abdomen, genitals, legs, and feet
Around your body
Between your fingers and toes
Behind your neck and back
Above your head
Beneath your chair
In front of you
To each side of you
Between the space inside and the space outside
All around you and inside of you

While remaining aware of the space inside and around you, let yourself be aware of any sounds, tastes, smells, sensations, or images that you may have been excluding.
Try to spend at least several minutes in this state of open awareness.

Energized Meditation
The following techniques are powerful methods for becoming aware of and releasing latent tensions that block and drain energy. They are based on the practices of Christopher Hyatt (born Alan Miller), psychotherapist, occultist, and founder of the Extreme Individual Institute. His practices are highly influenced by the physiotherapy techniques of Wilhelm Reich. These exercises will help you become more aware of your internal dialogue and its relation to tension, and will also help release bound up emotional tension.

Before starting, here are some general principles:

Unless the instructions say otherwise, keep your eyes open. This helps you stay in the moment and maintain awareness of your body.
Don’t strain. It is better to do too little, than to overtax yourself. Do only as much as seems appropriate for your body. If you take up these procedures as a regular practice, you can work up to longer periods. Always move slower than you might expect you should.
Allow at least 48 hours between practice. That is, if you work out one day, do not practice again until the third day thereafter. Twice a week is optimum.
In various of the steps, we have suggested one to two dozen repetitions, but you should essentially continue the physically exhausting steps until your performance drops off (and you become physically tired) or until you get an overwhelmingly strong reaction.

To prepare, lie flat on the floor and spend a little time paying attention to your neck and jaw. If you are like most of us, you maintain a continual internal dialogue. Don’t try to stop it, but just relax and try to become aware of it. Just breathe loosely, without trying to influence your breathing pattern, and follow your thoughts. Again, don’t try to influence your dialogue and don’t pay attention to what you are thinking about, just let your thoughts flow however they will. Regardless of the content of your thoughts, this internal dialogue produces tensions due to the slight motion of your jaw and voice box as these thought flow through your mind. Ignore your dialogue itself, but try to notice the micro-movements. Don’t try to control them, but become more and more aware of any tension and movements you can discern in your face, throat, and neck.

After you’ve spent some time just paying attention to the movements in your face, jaw, and throat, turn your attention back to your thoughts. Think about something unpleasant and notice how this effects the tension and motions you’ve been observing. As with many of the practices in this book, you may want to take some notes about the exact spots where you notice movement and what feelings you experience. Pause for a minute and think about something else completely until you are in a different state. Try to imagine how coffee smells or see if you can remember your last three phone numbers – just do something that changes your state. Now think about something pleasant and make the same observations. Do you notice anything different about the motions in your neck and face? Are the feelings different? Do they occur in different places? Repeat this process a couple times over the next few weeks to try to become more aware of your internal dialogue and its connection to tension. When you think you’ve become more sensitive to the relationship between your thoughts and internal tension and movements, move on to the following steps. The following techniques should be practiced on an empty stomach, waiting least two or three hours if you have eaten a heavy meal.

1. Sit or lie down somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed and can make strange noises without anyone wondering what’s going on. Spend a few minutes making various faces. Try to see how many different expressions you can make. Open your mouth as wide as possible. Move you jaw from side to side. Open your eyes as wide as you can and move your eyes back and forth and up and down. Roll your eyes around clockwise and counter-clockwise and then move them back and forth diagonally. Raise your eyebrows and work them back and forth. Keep trying to make different expressions, stretching all the muscles in your face as much as possible. Do this for at least three minutes or so. You may notice an increase in thought or release of emotions. If so, don’t worry about it – just keep moving your face around.

2. Now, start to hum and make noises. Hum loudly for a minute. Hum deep and low. After a little bit, see how wide a range or humming noises you can make for another minute or two. After that, stick your tongue out and just start to say simple phonemes like “TA”, “DA” and “BA.” Stick out your jaw and move your tongue around every way you can think of while making different sounds. Make any sound that feels right. You can hum, sigh, sob, moan, howl, or just sing strings of strings of vowels. Let the sound change in any way that feels right, but continue to breathe with a regular relaxed rhythm. Continue making noises for another couple of minutes.

The next time you practice this step, experiment with other types of sounds. See how wide a range of sounds you can make. Pay attention to how these sounds feel and notice that sounds with a faster rhythm or sounds that require you to tighten your abdomen raise your energy level, while slower sounds and sounds you make with a very relaxed abdomen will tend to make you more relaxed.

3. Bring your shoulders up towards your ears as far as you can. Keep them up until your shoulders begin to feel tired, and then drop them down as far as you can. Relax for a minute and then repeat the whole process two or three times.

4. Now, take a really deep breath through your nose, so that you pull your abdomen in and inflate the upper part of your chest as much as you can. Hold this for six or seven seconds (count “1001”, “1002”, and so on), and then let your chest deflate and your abdomen relax – not by pushing out the air, but as if you were allowing a balloon to deflate. Wait another count of six or so, and then repeat. Do this between one and two dozen times.

5. Move your attention to your neck. Don’t strain, but turn your head from left to right, and then nod back and forth. Move your head up and down and from side to side as far as you can for two or three minutes.

6. Lie down flat (if you haven’t already) and stretch out your legs, keeping them straight, while holding your heels about four inches above the floor or ground. Hold your legs up as long as you can, then let them drop. Shakes your legs out and relax for a moment. Repeat this three times or so.

7. Open your mouth and breathe in quickly, inflating your lungs as fully as can with a quick breath, and then relax as they deflate, sighing as you exhale. Repeat this for about three minutes. When you are done, continue lying flat. Don’t do anything in particular – just relax – but be as aware as you can or every part of your body. Notice if you are experiencing any unusual sensations or feeling any specific areas of tension.

After a minute or so, move on to practicing a mantram. In this case, we are not talking about a phrase with particular spiritual significance (though you can certainly use one if you have a mantra or phrase that is significant to you), but a resonant phoneme. While continuing to inhale fully, exhale while vibrating or resonating “HUM” drawing it out as long as the exhale. Alternatively, you can make the sound “OHHH-OOOOOMMM”

After about 10 or 15 minutes, continue with the next steps.

8. Your entire face should now be relaxed. Make sure that your eyes are closed, but not tightly closed, just relaxed. You jaw should also be relaxed, so that you could stick out your tongue without lowering your jaw (your tongue, however, should be lightly touching the roof of your mouth). Your forehead and the areas around your ears should also be relaxed. Your neck should be straight, so that your throat is unconstricted. Spend at least 10 minutes simply following your breath and feeling your body. Try to keep your attention in real time time, focus on your breath and sensations. Don’t try to forcibly silence your inner dialogue, but do try to stay focus on your breath and body instead of thinking about anything else. Practice this and the previous steps by themselves for at least a few days before moving on to the next steps.

9. Still laying on your back and very relaxed, breathe deeply, filling the bottom of your abdomen first and then inflating the middle and the top of your chest. As you do this, try to pay as much attention as possible to each muscle you use to inhale. Relax and exhale in the opposite order, again paying attention to all the muscles you are using in your chest and abdomen. Repeat this for at least a dozen breaths.

10. Now, stand up slowly. After standing, count to three and then let your body just sort of flop over at the waist. Don’t bend over or move quickly, just let the top have of your body collapse using gravity. Slowly straighten up. Repeat this a dozen to two dozen times. Relax and take a couple of deep breaths, then repeat the process a dozen to two dozen times, but this time, exhale rapidly as you collapse the top half of your body and breathe in slowly as you rise up. Relax and spend a minute exploring how you feel.

11. Lie down again. Use a large, soft bed if you have one. Regardless, you may want to place some pillows under your legs. Relax for a moment, then inhale slowly while bending your knees and bringing your legs up to your chest. When your knees are up to your chest (or as far as you can bring them), exhale forcefully and straighten your legs quickly, kicking out as far as you can. (BE careful not to injure your knees as you do this.) Repeat this until you begin to feel tired, then relax and allow your breathing to return to normal. After your breathing has slowed down, repeat the process, but this time, when you straighten your legs, try to keep your legs extended and hold them straight with your heels a couple of inches above the bed (or floor, or whatever surface you are using) for a couple of seconds. Continue this for a couple of minutes and then relax.

12. Once your breathing slows down and you are relaxed again, inhale deeply, and then on the exhale scream as loud as you can (remember that we mentioned you should practice somewhere secluded). Do this at least half a dozen times. If you have neighbors near by, you might try screaming into a pillow.

13. Still laying down, relax and spend a few minutes just feeling your body. Pay attention to your circulation and your breath. Feel energy circulate through your body.

After a minute or so, begin practicing the resonant phrase (or mantram). While continuing to inhale fully, exhale while vibrating or resonating “HUM” drawing it out as long as the exhale. Alternatively, you can make the sound “OHHH-OOOOOMMM.” Continue this for about 15 minutes. Before moving, spend a couple of minutes just observing your breathing again and paying attention to energy moving through your body. When you have finished that, just sit quietly for another 15 minutes without eating or drinking anything. Note anything you find significant in your working journal. Practice the previous steps for a couple of weeks before moving on.

14. Stand up, bending you knees very slightly, and then let the top part of your body collapse forward as you did in Step 10. While flopped over, breathe in for a count of five, hold the breath for a count of five, exhale for a count of five, and hold with your breath out for a count of five. Do this a couple more times, and then slowly straighten up. Repeat the whole process a half dozen times or so. When you are done, stand straight with your eyes shut and let your feel, searching for any tension that may still be present in your shoulders, neck, or face. Open your mouth as wide as you can and move you jaw around, much as you did in Step 1. Now, close your mouth, but continue changing expressions and working the muscles in your face. Do this for about five minutes, then bend your head back as far as you are able. Now, with your head back, begin turning your head from side to side. Keep going for a couple more minutes. Now, sit down and relax.

15. Somewhat as you did at the very beginning of these exercises, think about something unpleasant, something that worries you. Get up and pace around. Think of a phrase your say to yourself when you are worried, something that expresses your worry and repeat it over and over while you pace. After at least three or four minutes, sit down again and think about something that makes you very happy. When you have your attention focused on something joyful, get up and start pacing around again, only this time, repeat some phrase that expresses your happiness or enthusiasm, like “this is great!” or “I’m really enjoying this!” After a couple minutes, laugh (or at least imitate laughing) for a minute, and then attempt to cry (or at least imitate crying) for a minute. Alternate between the emotions for about ten minutes.

16. Lie down again. Pull your legs up to your chest and wrap your arms around them, rolling yourself up into a ball (or at least as tight as you can). Tense all your muscles and maintain this position for two or three minutes. Finally, let go and release all your tensions and shout “AH!” Feel everything just release and let go. Repeat this whole step two or three more times.

17. Now, breathe fully and deeply, inflating you abdomen and chest fully, and then exhale, letting go, and vibrating your resonant phrase (or mantram). Do this for about five or ten minutes, and then just relax and observe your breathing for a few more minutes.

Some References

— Undoing Yourself With Energized Meditation & Other Devices, Christopher S Hyatt, Israel Regardie, and Robert Anton Wilson, Original Falcon Press, 2011
— The One Year Manual, Israel Regardie, Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1990
— Richard Hittleman’s Introduction to Yoga, Richard Hittleman, Bantam, 1997
— Yoga: The 8 Steps to Health and Peace, Richard Hittleman, Bantam, 1980
— Yoga, Tantra and Meditation in Daily Life, Swami Janakananda Saraswati, Weiser Books, 1992
— Yoga for Health, Richard Hittleman, Ballantine Books, 1985
— Remember, Be Here Now, Ram Dass, Lama Foundation, 1971
— Reichian Therapy: The Technique, for Home Use, Jack Willis, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2010
— OPEN FOCUS: The Attentional Foundation of Health and Well-Being, Lester G. Fehmi, Ph.D. and George Fritz, Ed.D, Somatics, Spring 1980

Beginning Mindfulness Exercises

As usual, we’d like your feedback on how these exercises work for you and what other material we might include.

Attention: Observances and Abstentions
Many traditions practice doing and not doing things. That is, many spiritual and religious traditions encourage observances and abstentions.
In their most basic form, practicing abstentions means to stop doing things that weaken you, distract you from mindfulness or necessary tasks, or are just plain bad for you. Typically, most traditions call for abstention from “vices”. These include actions that most societies agree are negative, such as lying, gossip, theft, and violence, and general excess, such as gluttony, drunkenness, and sexual promiscuity. Most of us would agree on the obvious destructive consequences of habitual dishonesty, theft, or violence. However, when it comes to excess, people have widely varying standards as to how much is too much. This book is not concerned with comparing moral standards. For our purposes, one simple rule of thumb is sufficient in regard to any action that might be deemed excessive; are you serving it or is it serving you? If you can truly say that a given action gives you real pleasure (as opposed to relief, distraction, or numbness), then that’s all fine and good. However, if your indulgence in something, such as alcohol or drugs, pursuit of sexual partners, or even online gaming prevents you from accomplishing goals that are truly important to you, then you are serving your habits more than they are serving you.

Observances are the complimentary opposites of abstentions. Simply put, just as one should stop doing things that are self-destructive or hold one back, one should practice doing things that are good for you. The most obvious observances are thing that you were probably taught when you were growing up; practice cleanliness, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, and take time to relax or enjoy yourself. In addition, many traditions have ritualized healthy practices, partly to make them regular habits, but also to make them more conscious and to place them in a sacred or spiritual context. The blessing of food and drink, ritual cleansing, and short prayers or affirmations are all examples of this sort of observance.
Now obviously, it’s good to do things that are good for you and to avoid activities that are bad for you, but oddly enough, that’s not the main point of observances and abstentions. Self-control –doing anything that requires controlled, willful action – requires finite neurological resources. In other words, in the short-term, people have limited amounts of attention. The amount of self-control we expend on one task diminishes the amount we have available for the next task.

Luckily, we can increase our reserve of willpower. Exerting self-control, though it is exhausting in the short term, can help improve willpower over time. Just the act of slowing down and thinking clearly about an impulse instead of automatically denying it or giving in can help increase self-control. Less obviously, watching or even thinking about someone perceived to have good self-control makes people more likely to exert self-control. This holds true whether the person imagined is an actual acquaintance or a spiritual entity such as Jesus or Buddha.

Observances and abstentions are useful exercises to increase mindfulness. That is, consciously exercising self-control helps cultivate awareness and increased self-control.

The bottom line, however, is that while doing or not doing a given activity may have value in and of itself, exercises performed to increase mindfulness are effective until the activity (whether doing or not doing) becomes habitual. As soon as the exercise no long requires your attention, it is time to switch to a different exercise, since it is the attention — the mindfulness — that you are trying to cultivate.

This is not to say that mindfulness is the only reason to do this type of exercise. For example, there’s no reason to stop exercising once it becomes a habit, since exercise is good for its own sake. From a mindfulness standpoint, however, it is important to alter and adjust your observances and abstentions periodically so that they continue to require you to pay attention!
Some Simple Observances

Physical Cleansing I
In the morning, immediately after waking up, brush your body with a soft brush until your skin turns slightly red. Next, wash your whole body with cold water and rub it with a rough towel until you feel quite warm. This exercise is very helpful if you are going to practice other exercises first thing in the morning, particularly if you are getting up early in the morning to make time for practice. It is also helpful because it opens your pores and can help you clean out toxins.

Get Some Exercise
Practice a routine of morning physical exercises. While it is certainly worthwhile to spend real effort on a physical program, the main point, as far as the exercises in this book are concerned, is to train the will and to develop your body to the point where it does not distract you from making further progress. At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge that training the body can also train you to get in touch with how it feels and what messages it is trying to tell you. Physical exercise starts you toward this kind of connection, because it shows you how to start listening to your body when you do the exercise.

In the context of meditation, the point of physical exercises is train the body so it is not a distraction. To learn to sit perfectly still for extended periods, some teachers have suggested that the student practice holding a cup of water on his or her head until stillness can be maintained for at least an hour. It is important that you don’t stay so still, however, that your limbs become numb. If your limbs are numb or fallen asleep, you should do just enough movement to decrease that sensation, as it usually indicates a loss of circulation, which can prove unhealthy.

In any case, it is important to practice a daily regimen to build your physical stamina, make your body more flexible, and increase your level of energy. If you do not already do so, try instituting a daily walk or bicycle ride.
It is outside the scope of this book to go into great detail concerning physical practices. If you want to start a significant regimen of physical exercise, such as weight lifting, hatha yoga, or a martial art, it’s best to find a competent instructor and, if you are unused to physical activity, to consult your doctor before beginning. Still, the following section (3 Physical Practices) does describe some basic exercises that may be helpful.

Conceptual Breathing
It can be very beneficial to imagine charging your inhaled breath with an intention or suggestion. Sit down in a comfortable spot. Relax and begin to breathe evenly and deeply through your nose. Imagine that with each inhalation, you are inhaling health, tranquility, success, or some other intention. It is important to imagine the quality or outcome you intend to inhale as completely and intensely as you can, visualizing and feeling its attributes as much as you are able. Imagine with utter certainty that your intention enters into you more fully with each breath.

When performing this exercise, remember that it is not the quantity of the inhaled air that matters, but the quality, the detail, and intensity of the idea you intend to inhale. Breathe slowly and calmly, without any strain or haste.

Start with seven breaths in the morning and seven at night. Increase the number of breaths by one each day until you feel like you intention is realized, up to a maximum of around one half hour per session. Make sure that your intention is something relatively simple. When you first begin, use the intention that your breath fills you with health and energy. Later on, you can experiment with more complex or specific intentions. Do not imagine a new intention until you think your initial choice has been sufficiently accomplished.

Conscious Reception of Food
Just as you can charge your breath with an intention, you can use a similar technique with food.
Sit down in front of a dish of food that you are going to eat and imagine your intention being embodied in the food. Concentrate on your desire and imagine that it has already been realized.
If you happen to be alone, use your hands to make a gesture of blessing on the food and charging it with your intention. Imagine the quality or outcome you intend as completely and intensely as you can. If you are not alone, close your eyes momentarily and charge your food purely by intent and visualization. Then eat your food slowly with the firm conviction that your desire is passing into your whole body.

This technique can be used with any kind of food or beverage, but any food or drink impregnated with an intention should be consumed entirely, leaving nothing.

Do not read or converse during a meal when you are performing this exercise. Maintain your intention the whole time you are eating. Start with the simple intention of health, nourishment, and energy. When you move on to other intentions, concentrate on the same intention that you are using with your intention breathing exercises. Under no conditions should you use an intention that is in any way in opposition to your breathing exercise intention.

Combining Physical and Mental Cleansing
Whenever you wash your hands or take a shower, imagine strongly that you are not only washing the dirt off your body, but also the impurities off your character and the uncleanliness off your soul. Imagine failure, trouble, dissatisfaction, and illness all being washed off, dissolved in the water, and running down the drain. If you have only a washbowl, be sure to throw the water you wash with away immediately so that nobody else comes in contact with it – that is, treat the water as if you are literally, physically dissolving your negative traits and influences.

You can practice a similar technique by dipping your hands into cold water and concentrating on all weaknesses ad negative influences being out of your body and your soul as the water draws warmth from your hands. Maintain a firm belief that all failures and faults are passing into the water. Be sure to throw this water away at once.

This sort of practice can be particularly effective when bathing in a flowing river, especially if you can immerse your entire body beneath the water. The strong sense of flow and the sound of moving water can both contribute to the effectiveness of the practice.

This exercise can be reversed by concentrating on charging or impregnating water with a positive trait, and then imagining that this quality is passing into your body while washing.

If you have the time, you can combine both forms of the exercise by cleansing negative influences under a tap or shower and then washing on a positive quality using water from a basin.

If you practice a tradition that assigns symbolic meanings or magical qualities to herbs and essential oils, you can use the qualities you believe reside in these substances to add to the effectiveness of the washing exercises.

Recruiting Your Subconscious as an Ally — Autosuggestion
It can be very useful to practice repeating phrases, such as affirmations or mantras, in order to engage your subconscious. These affirmations or mantras should be phrased positively. For instance: “I can succeed” as opposed to “I cannot fail” which places a negative emphasis on the affirmation and can end up sabotaging the positive effects. When creating affirmations or auto-suggestions, say the statements in positive terms and in present tense. Instead of saying “I will not snack between meals”, say “When I want to snack, I exercise” or instead of saying “I will stop smoking”, say “When I want to smoke, I will go for a walk”. With these two last examples, notice how the one behavior we want to change is replaced with the suggestion of another behavior. We relabel one behavior, and refocus our attention on a healthier behavior. This allows the person to change the neural firing pattern that supports the prior behavior by imprinting a new behavior over it. It’s important to remember that after you do an affirmation, you act to follow through on the affirmation.
When using autosuggestion, it is important to remember that you are attempting to communicate with part of your mind that works somewhat differently from your normal consciousness. To your subconscious, there is only now and there is no negative state. Use phrases that fill your mind with what you want in present time, not what you want in the future or what you don’t want. You probably heard the example of “try not to think of an elephant”. This is impossible because you have to access the idea of “elephant” in order to know what not to think about.

This type of practice is most effective just before falling asleep and immediately upon waking up. The reason this practice is so effective then is because you are in an altered state of consciousness, where you are very receptive to auto-suggestions. The conscious mind is less resistant to the suggestions, and so can be conditioned to accept the affirmations. This is one reason why it is best to avoid, if possible, going to sleep while angry, worried, or depressed. When you go to bed with those thoughts, you are conditioning yourself to accept those feelings as a normal state of being. Try to always go to sleep with in a positive state, with pleasant feelings, and thoughts of success and health. This will motivate you to manifest those feelings and thoughts in your life on an everyday basis.
You can also practice repeating a phrase or affirmation over and over until you are no longer conscious of the meaning, as is done with prayers or mantras in some traditions. Autosuggestion can be used in more sophisticated ways by inducing a trance, but this will be discussed more later on.

Use of the Rosary, Mala, or Prayer Beads
Buy or make a small chain of beads. The beads can be wood, stone, pearls, glass or any other kind of beads as long as they are basically round, large enough to manipulate easily, and on a slightly loose string so that there is slack to move the beads around. The string should have at least 30 beads but can have more if you want. If you have trouble obtaining a string of beads, you can take a piece of plain string and tie thirty or forty knots in it. The only thing that’s important is that you have a way of counting repetitions without consciously counting, so that you can repeat an affirmation, prayer, or mantra a set number of times (at least thirty or forty) without thinking about the number of repetitions. Note that this technique can also be used while performing concentration and visualization exercises to record the number of distractions or times you slipped in concentration without interrupting your practice.

Practice this exercise for at least a week or two. Select an affirmation or suggestion. This can be something general, such as the French hypnotist Émile Coué’s affirmation “Every day, and in every way, I am becoming better and better.” Later, if you want to continue the practice, you can experiment with more specific intentions. This practice works best if you combine it with the same intention used with the previously described breathing and eating exercises.

Each day when you wake up and go to sleep, grab your string of beads and repeat your suggestion. You can repeat the phrase in normal voice, softly, or just mentally, depending on your surroundings. With each repetition, move one of the beads on the string until you come to the end of the string. As with similar practices, imagine your intention as fully and with as much detail as possible, imagining that your intention is already realized and in actual existence. When practicing at night, if you don’t feel sleepy after repeating through the entire string of beads, continue through another set. Optimally, you should fall asleep with your intention still in your mind. It is perfectly all right if you fall asleep while repeating your suggestion. In the morning, when you are not quite awake, reach for the string of beads and repeat the exercise. If you get up during the night, you can repeat the exercise then as well.
Perhaps you are wondering what kind of intentions can be accomplished by autosuggestion. Recent theories of quantum physics, as well as ancient concepts of philosophy, suggest that it is possible that our physical world is much more influenced by our consciousness than is normally apparent, but this is a discussion beyond the scope of this book. Let’s just say that while it might be possible to influence external physical reality by changing the focus and content of your consciousness, it is definitely possible to change yourself, and through that change, change how you interact with the world around you. You are, of course, free to experiment with any intentions that you desire, but you will almost certainly more readily and quickly accomplish intentions related to changing your character, personality, personal abilities, and health than you will accomplish generating a winning lottery number. In any case, choose wisely, since you should not move on to a new intention until you are absolutely satisfied with the result of the first one.

Some Simple Abstentions
The “I” Avoidance Exercise
A good example of an awareness- and will-developing abstention can be seen in the “I” Avoidance Exercise.” This is a seemingly easy exercise that is performed to increase mindfulness, develop the will, and to diminish the ego and sense of self-importance. Try to spend at least one day without using any first person pronouns in conversation. …and it’s no fair practicing this exercise while dog-sledding through the arctic or solo sailing across the Pacific ocean. Choose a day when you will actually be talking to a few people. Keep your working journal with you or carry a small pad and make a mark each time you forget and use the words “I”, “I’m” “we”, or “me”. Keep practicing until you can go at least one day without using any first person pronouns. If you are anything like most of us, this is a lot harder than it initially seems.
One technique you can use to train yourself to avoid saying I or other first person pronouns, involves using a rubber band. Wear a rubber band around your wrist. Every time you say a first person pronoun, snap the rubber band. The pain that is caused by the rubber band will remind you not to say the first person pronoun.

The benefit of doing this particular exercise is that it provides you an idea of how an abstention works. By choosing to make an attempt not to say a first person pronoun you can become aware of just how conditioned you are to say the first person pronouns as well as how hard it can be to break the habit. Applying that understanding to choosing to abstain from a habit such as cigarette smoking can actually make the abstention process easier, because you’ll be more aware of how you attempt to rationalize your choices to indulge in the habit.

An additional benefit of this exercise is that it can provide you a different perspective on how you language, how you think of yourself, and how you perceive your interactions with others. The choice to not use the first person pronoun challenges you to be creative with how you use language and explain concepts to people, while also serving as an excellent discipline exercise in focusing your mind on a task.

Other Abstentions Worth Trying
If you like, you can take this even farther by trying a short vow of silence, one of the traditional western monastic abstentions. Try to go without saying anything aloud for an entire day. For the sake of practicality, it’s probably better if you try this on a day when you aren’t working, going to classes, or have other commitments that might require speech. As with other practices, pay attention to how this makes you feel and write down any impressions in you working journal. In some versions of this practice, it is acceptable to write notes to others on a small blackboard or note pad. This is an excellent way to become more aware of your speech, since it takes considerably more time and effort to write a conversation than it does to say it aloud. It can also help you be more aware of how you express your emotions and thoughts in speech. Of course, considering the quality of thought and good judgment demonstrated on some chat rooms, perhaps typing is too quick a medium for this rule to hold true.

Abstention is also practiced in various traditions as a form of sacrifice and a method of increasing awareness. For example, Orthodox Judaism forbids work on the Sabbath. Since the bible (Exodus 35:3) includes kindling fires as work, some observant orthodox Jews also avoid the use of cars or electricity. Another example of this sort of practice is the Christian tradition of abstaining from red meat on Fridays. Many traditions periodically practice a day or even several days of fasting, as in the Moslem observance of Ramadan when no food or drink is consumed between dawn and dusk.

You could try fasting from sun-up to sundown once a week for a couple of weeks. If you feel inclined, try a several day fast with only water mixed with lemon juice (necessary to maintain your body’s electrolyte balance). Now, use common sense – you shouldn’t try either of these things if you are diabetic, hypo-glycemic, have a physical job in a hot environment, and so on. Don’t hurt yourself. For more information about fasting practices, see the chapter on metabolism and fasting.

The Working Journal II — Inventory of Negative Traits
Set aside a section of your working journal for self-criticism. Spend some time each morning and each night for at least a week sitting quietly and listing all of your behaviors, traits, passions, and desires that you consider to be negative or destructive. Remember that your working journal should remain private, so it important to observe yourself as clearly as possible and accurately record your weaknesses and deficiencies. However, if you happen to notice, during the course of your day, that you tell yourself certain negative beliefs, don’t hesitate to note those negative beliefs at the time they occur. When you do spend some time that night, record what you observed during the day along with the rest of the traits you consider negative.
Think back on different times in your past where you acted in ways you would like to have changed, remembering as much as possible about your mistakes or failures in various situations. Nothing should remain hidden, however insignificant or great your faults may be.

While performing this self-inventory, however, it is important not to indulge in guilt or self-pity. If you do feel pity, guilt, or embarrassment, briefly acknowledge it, and then continue with the exercise. The purpose of this exercise is to become more aware of behavior that you want to change, not to make yourself feel bad or helpless. Also, as you make your list, make sure that you only list attributes and behaviors that YOU think are bad. Don’t list something just because you think some authority or another person disapproves of the behavior. List the things that you truly believe interfere with you accomplishing your goals, waste your time and energy, or make you unhappy — things that keep you from living in the way you truly want to live.
Again, spend at least a week on this exercise. If you feel like you haven’t compiled a complete list, spend a second week. A good rule of thumb is to keep at this exercise until you have listed 100 negative traits or bad habits. Later on, you may find it helpful to work on your list every six months or so, to note new habits or to cross off old ones.

In the following week, examine your negative list and divide it into three groups. In the first group, place your greatest failures, particularly those that exert the strongest influence on you or happen most frequently. In the second group, place the negative traits that you exhibit less often or that have less impact on your life. In the third group, list the faults that you only exhibit now and again and those that are of little importance.
Once you’ve divided the list into three groups, pick one behavior from each group that you feel you can change. Write down how you will go about changing it. For instance, if one of your negative habits is a tendency to apologize too much and you wish to change it, think about how you would go about abstaining from the behavior and then follow through by taking the appropriate action for at least a week, preferably a month (it takes approximately 28 days to change a habit and keep that change).

To illustrate how this works, let’s return to the example of apologizing too much. To abstain from apologizing, you might ask yourself: What causes me to feel the need to apologize? What am I reacting to? What is the base emotion that informs my need to apologize? Answer these questions honestly. Each time you catch yourself in a situation where you start to apologize, pause and take a breath and use that moment to analyze the emotions behind your desire to apologize. If the emotions are similar to the reactive emotion, you might then stop yourself from apologizing and instead consciously focus on taking an action to handle the situation in a healthier way. Such an action could be standing up for yourself, or walking away from the situation, or some other choice.

The Working Journal III — Inventory of Positive Traits
After you have spent at least a week listing behaviors and traits you would like to change, set aside another section of your journal and repeat the process for your qualities and behaviors that that you think are good. Continue this exercise for at least a week, keeping at it until you have a list of positive traits and constructive behaviors that is at least as long as your list of defects.

Again, don’t get caught up in self-indulgence. Pride or complacency will only add to your negative list. Try to observe yourself as clearly and objectively as you did in the previous exercise. List everything you can find in yourself that you want to cultivate and expand.
Like the negative list, it is a good idea to revisit your list of positive traits every six months or so, adding new traits, deleting traits you have lost, or changing observations that may have been inaccurate.
By the time you are done, your lists should act as mirrors, one positive and one negative. One mirror reflects a self you want to change and one mirror reflects a self you want to nurture. As you progress, you may find observations in both lists that reflect more about your attitude towards yourself than your actual nature and behaviors.

In the following week, examine your positive list and divide it into three groups. In the first group, place your greatest successes, particularly those habits that seem to contribute most to your health and growth. In the second group, place the positive traits or habits that you exhibit less often or that have less impact on your life. In the third group, list the positive traits that you only exhibit now and again and those that are of little importance.
Pick a trait or habit from each list and determine a course of action you can do to enhance each trait. This is particularly useful with traits you only do occasionally. For instance, if you only show gratitude occasionally, it may be useful to focus on how you could nurture and enhance that activity within your life. Ask yourself: What makes me feel this way? How do I express this feeling? Are there other ways I could express this feeling? Once you’ve answered these questions, develop a course of action and follow it so you can nurture and enhance these traits. The benefit of creating such a course of action is that it shows you how not to take your positive traits or habits for granted, while also emphasizing the importance of investing in them, in order to make them more effective in your life.

The Natural Order of Things – Part 5

The Techniques of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Hypnosis

Richard Bandler

Dr. Richard Bandler

Neuro-Linguistic Programming was developed in the mid-70s by John Grinder, a Professor at UC Santa Cruz and Richard Bandler, a graduate student. It has since been greatly expanded by others such as Robert Dilts, Judith DeLozier, and Leslie Cameron-Bandler.

NLP originated as an approach to modeling how communication impacts and is impacted by subjective experience. By modeling the effective behaviors of exceptional people, NLP has assembled a huge set of pragmatic tools while being relatively unconcerned with underlying theory. As Bandler once said, “NLP is a methodology that leaves behind a trail of techniques”. This approach has resulted in a lot of argument in scientific circles about NLP’s effectiveness, but the “official” NLP doctrine is “pretend it works, try it, and notice the results you get. If you don’t get the result you want, try something else.”

Much of early NLP was based on the work of Virginia Satir, a family therapist; Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt therapy; Gregory Bateson, anthropologist; and Milton Erickson, hypnotist. Erickson’s work in particular formed the foundation for a lot of NLP, which is one reason why NLP has so many techniques for trance induction and use of hypnotic language patterns.

Gregory Bateson

Gregory Bateson

NLP consists of various models and collections of techniques based on those models. Some of the major models usually associated with NLP are:

  • Sensory acuity and observing physiological cues in people’s communication. — People’s thought processes change their physiological state and learning to observe these physiological changes can provide an additional source of information when trying to communicate or understand another’s communication.
  • The “Milton model” and “meta-model” of linguistic structures. — The Milton model, named after Milton Erickson, is a detailed description of linguistic patterns used in hypnosis (and, more importantly for most of us, advertising, political speech, and other attempts at influence). The “meta-model” inverts the same linguistic structures, using the concepts to help uncover the “deep structure” in people’s communication and teaching people to avoid generalization, distortions, and deletions and to challenge them when encountered.
  • Examining how people use representational systems. — Different people seem to represent knowledge in different sensory modalities. That is, we all tend to focus on different senses. People’s language reveals their representation. Communication difficulties sometimes result from people speaking in incompatible representation systems, giving an impression of bad communication. For example, a person focused on their auditory channel might say “I really hear what you’re saying” where someone more visually oriented might say “I see what you mean.” While this might sound trivial, it can make a great difference in perception of how well we are communicating with one another.
  • Milton Erickson

    Milton Erickson

    Eye accessing cues. When people think visually, remember music, focus on their physical feelings, or otherwise access a particular representational system, their eyes move in certain ways. Everyone is different, but each individual will tend to exhibit certain eye movements in relation to how they process information. This is one of the more controversial ideas in NLP, partly because it is very difficult to effectively research.

  • Submodalities – This is the idea that the structure of how you represent things to yourself in the different sensory channels determines your response to the content. For example, when visualizing something, you can change its effect on you by changing the intensity of the color, the sharpness of the picture, its distance from you, and so on.

NLP contains many other models and associated techniques. Again, many techniques in NLP are derived from the methods of hypnosis, but in general, NLP doesn’t use the term hypnosis because so much of human behavior is hypnogogic that the term hypnosis is too vague. (For example, think about how many times you’ve been driving, thinking about something intently, and suddenly you are home.) As far as NLP is concerned, and altered state is only a state of consciousness different from one’s usual state. For a very visual person, hearing internal sounds or voices might be an altered state, while for a kinesthetically oriented person, seeing a visual image might be an altered state. Hence, in NLP, a trance state is defined as an inwardly directed altered state.

As far as this book is concerned, NLP is the source of many useful techniques, but also serves as a way of organizing and examining practices from other traditions. It’s been said that, because of NLP’s

NLP Society Logo

NLP Society Logo

emphasis on the “Meta Model” and understanding representational systems, one of its goals is to get people to represent memory and imagination in direct sensory form. That is, instead of describing an experience to ourselves in our internal dialogue, we move towards hearing, seeing, and feeling the experience or imagination directly. In this sense, one of the goals of NLP practice is similar to that of the other traditions drawn upon in this book – the direct perception and experience of the world around us without fear, desire, or other condition of illusion.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

As we said when we started this series of posts, one of the most daunting questions remaining in the production of The Book of Good Practices is how should all this material be best ordered.   We are very interested in people’s opinions as to order of chapters (a screen capture showing a very provisional table of contents is shown in The Natural Order of Things – Part 1).  We also want to know what else you think we should include.  If you know of other topics we should cover, other material and sources we should examine, or you have any other constructive suggestions, we would love to hear from you.

 

The Natural Order of Things – Part 4

Buddhist and Taoist Breathing and Meditation Techniques

The Buddha

The Buddha

Both Buddhism and Taoism emphasize mindful awareness through breathing and meditation techniques. The breathing and meditation are connection, with focus on the breath used as a way of leading a person into an altered state of consciousness. However some of the focus, particularly in Buddhist practices also involves maintaining mindful awareness in everyday consciousness, especially when it comes to feeling desire. These practices have the added benefit of improving a person’s physical health, because the breathing techniques are used to develop and maintain awareness of how the body feels as well as identifying not merely the symptom of pain, but also the root cause of the pain (physically, emotionally, or mentally).

Buddhism focuses on freeing people from attachment to their desires. The attachment to desire leads to suffering because the desire can never be completely satisfied. Some schools of Buddhism, however, argue that desire can still be enjoyed provided that it is enjoyed in the moment and not held onto as a fixation. The emphasis ultimately is to let go of attachment in order to free yourself of the eternal cycle of reincarnation and karma.

The focus in Taoism is different. Taoists want to achieve immortality by using different techniques to prolong the life a person has in the physical body, while refining that person’s spiritual essence so that it can retain the Taoist practitioner’s personality and sense of identity when the physical body finally dies. The breathing techniques and meditations are focused on helping a person invigorate their body, while also building up its immune system.

With both practices, breath is the key. The breath serves as a focal point which is used to guide the consciousness of the practitioner. Additionally different types of breath can produce different physiological reactions (Try drawing your stomach in when you breathe to get an example of this). By learning to follow and be mindfully aware of the breath as you inhale and exhale you can learn how to regulate your sense of consciousness as well as become more aware of areas of tension and stress in your body. Eventually you can actually use breathe to decrease the sensation of tension and stress in a given area of the body, as well as even communicate with that part of the body.

We are not focusing in detail on the spirituality of Buddhism or Taoism or the terminology that is used in either belief system. Instead we want to show readers how to take the principles and practices of breathing and use those to improve the overall health you have in your life. The additional benefit of achieving a state of relaxation and meditation is useful learning how to focus the mind, relax the body, and release any stress or other emotions which might otherwise affect your health. While the spirituality and terminology of Buddhism and Taoism can be important, we feel that the essential practices and benefits of breathing can be understood, because breathing is an activity all of us do.

Continued in The Natural Order of Things – Part 5

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Copyright

All Content Copyright 2012 Bill Whitcomb and Taylor Ellwood