<![CDATA[Austin Mindfulness Center - Blog]]>Fri, 23 Mar 2018 08:29:26 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[How to Change Your Life]]>Wed, 07 Mar 2018 17:13:07 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/how-to-change-your-life
It usually happens when we reach a crossroad in our life. Maybe you’ve been plodding along in a job you never intended to stay in or a relationship that isn’t going anywhere. When life becomes routine and uninspiring. When we lose passion or interest in the way things have been going, we tend to start looking elsewhere for something more fulfilling. We think, “Maybe it’s time to try something new.”

Cassie has always been into yoga and use to dream of a career in mind-body wellness. She envisioned becoming a yoga teacher or perhaps a wellness coach. She developed these interests while attending college and working toward a degree in nursing, which was a profession she chose out of practicality. This made her parents happy. They would rest easy knowing she could find a job anywhere she went. Her parents had instilled in her a sense of pragmatism and conventional thinking.

Almost ten years later, Cassie has a great job working as a nurse in a specialty clinic only 10 minutes from her apartment. She gets decent pay, has great benefits, and likes the people she works with. Yet, she can’t help but feel something is lacking. She isn’t passionate about her work. She tells herself she’s helping people, but down deep, she feels she could be doing more. She still practices yoga on Saturday mornings and has looked into teacher training programs in her area, but the cost has been prohibitive and she finds other reasons to talk herself out of it. 
Is it the right choice?

First of all, there is no “right” choice. Right out of the gate, we get stuck on this one. For people like Cassie, whose rational and practical minds guide her every decision, the right choice seems like the one that should have the most pros in a list of pros and cons. It’s the choice that makes the most sense logically. Sometimes that’s true and sometimes there is only one pro on the list that takes the cake: 

My heart just wants it.

Your intuition is your best guide when it comes to big life decisions. Your mind can be a great helper, but sometimes it can get in the way. There are many reasons Cassie’s mind gave her for staying on her well worn, conventional path, a path she could depend on for a long steady career doing something she was pretty good at no matter where she lived. Her decision making faculties must include desires that are harder to measure on a list of pros and cons.

Fear of Failure

The second barrier was her fear of failure. What if I’m not very good at teaching? What if I can’t support myself or fill my work schedule with enough classes? The money issue was a big one for Cassie. The truth is, you can’t teach yoga classes for 40 hours a week. It’s physically and logistically impossible. So in order for her to fulfill her dreams she would need to supplement her income in other ways. She looked into wellness coaching certification and became discouraged once again at the sticker shock, especially on top of the cost of yoga teacher training. “I’ll never be able to afford all of this,” she thought. “And even if I could, none of this is guaranteed income. What if I don’t get any business?”

My answer? Then you’ll do something else. You’ll learn from your mistakes and you’ll course correct. The possibility of failure isn’t a reason not to do something. Failure is inevitable. Nobody just succeeds from start to finish. Have you ever read a biography of someone successful, who just made the “right” decisions every step of the way? How boring would that be? Don’t be afraid to fail. Taking a new path is fraught with unexpected set backs and hazards. The sooner you accept that the better prepared you’ll be. 

Will I fail? 

Maybe. Now let’s go!

Acceptance of Anxiety

If you’re not fearful, this new path of yours is probably lame. Anything worth doing is going to have it’s risks. You don’t have to get rid of your fear. Acceptance is holding your fears lightly and moving forward with your fear, because it’s worth it. Courage is nothing without fear. So what does it mean to “hold it lightly?”

Where do you feel this fear? Sit somewhere, close your eyes, and locate this sensation of fear or anxiety in your body. Imagine it’s a three dimensional object with physical characteristics: shape, color, texture, temperature, activity, etc. Breathe into this area and imagine with each inhale you are creating more space around your fear. You’re not doing anything to get rid of the fear, just creating space around it, to let it do what it needs to do without your interference. (For a guided audio recording of this exercise go here.)

When fear has plenty of room to dissipate, it has less effect on your behavior. This exercise helps you get some distance from the fear, to see it objectively, and ultimately to give you the space to make contact with what you’re really passionate about. Fear doesn’t have to push you around. Even if it’s still there, you can move freely because you’re able to attend to your passion rather than the fear.

Leaving the Old Path

Another barrier to taking a new path is your investment in the old path. Cassie put a lot of time and money into her nursing career. She was still paying off student loans from nursing school! When she brought it up to her parents about changing careers, this was her parents’ first rebuttal. All of the reasons for getting into this career were reasons to stay in it. “Look how well you’re doing! You’ve got a great thing going. Why would you give that up?”

The old path is predictable and much more dependable. There is comfort in that. But comfort comes at a cost. Comfort and growth do not get along. Another way of looking at it is, you’re either growing or your dying. Cassie may not have been able to articulate this to her parents, but her soul was being depleted. Moving toward uncertainty meant leaving her comfort zone. 

Moving Forward With Courage

This can look so different from person to person depending on the change they’re willing to make. The next Saturday Cassie went to her regular yoga class and saw a flyer for an upcoming teacher certification training. The early bird rate ended that day: $3250. She had been saving money for a downpayment on a new car and she checked the balance in her savings account: $3250. She immediately secured her spot in the program and on Monday requested time off to attend the training.

After the two month training, she was offered to teach a class at the studio where she had been attending. One class became two classes, and then three. She continued to work as a nurse at her clinic and offered to teach a weekly yoga class to her co-workers and other medical professionals in the building every Friday. This was not a paid gig, but she handed out post cards that had her weekly studio classes printed on the back and sure enough she began seeding her classes with her own co-workers who were happy to spread the word to their friends and family.

She continued to look into wellness coaching certification. After buying a new mat and three new pairs of yoga pants, she started putting aside the income from her yoga classes and in about a year’s time had enough to pay for that, too. At this point, she worked with a consultant to set up her coaching business and she began seeing private clients in the evenings and weekends. She put together weekend workshops and offered to speak at various medical practices about incorporating yoga and nutrition into treatment plans for all kinds of medical conditions. She blogged and started a YouTube channel all about yoga and nutrition, which became very popular and she was invited to be a guest on a health and fitness podcast. She would volunteer to speak at health fairs and other wellness events in town. 

Eventually, Cassie was offered to teach more and more yoga classes during the week, but her work schedule did not allow it. After much deliberation she decided to take a part-time position at her clinic. This was a very difficult decision because this meant losing her full-time benefits and the pay was significantly less than she was making as a full-time RN. The first few months were hard. She had to get a loan from her parents to make rent one month. But she put all her extra hours into promoting her coaching practice and soon she had a consistent 5-8 clients per week in addition to teaching six yoga classes. 

Cassie is still working part-time as a nurse, but she has plans to expand her wellness business to working with large organizations, presenting at conferences, and even creating her own podcast. If you ask me, it’s just a matter of time. If you’ve reached that point of stagnation, unfulfilled dreams, it’s not only possible to change the direction of your life, it’s your responsibility. It’s not going to change overnight, but when you set your intentions and have the courage to see obstacles as challenges, you will create opportunities where you didn’t see them before. It’s your life. Make it count.

​Jiovann Carrasco, LPC
Jiovann is the founder of the Austin Mindfulness Center where he works with adults to take charge of their lives and overcome anxiety, depression, and other barriers to living a courageous and authentic lives. Read his full bio here.
<![CDATA[Castaway: Life's Invitation to Acceptance]]>Wed, 14 Feb 2018 18:23:07 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/castaway-lifes-invitation-to-acceptance
When I was a child my family took yearly vacations to the Texas gulf coast at Port Aransas. This became a staple of each summer just before school set back in, as I’m sure it was for many families across Texas. Each year we would stay at the same low-cost cottages, spend our days getting sunburned on the beach, and our nights fishing at the pier. By far my favorite experiences were down at the pier learning how to fish, spending time as a family, and soaking in the warm salty breeze.

​By the age of 6, I had developed decent aptitude in reeling in piggy perch, crabs, gafftop, and the occasional sand trout. One evening the fishing was particularly poor, and after hours of no luck we decided to pack it in. In my mind, with each cast the waters were robbing me, one of my bait, but two of my fun and potential food. It was a personal affront. To show the gulf my discontent towards its obstinance and dereliction, I shook my fist at it and kicked in its general direction, my way of putting it on notice. 

Much to my chagrin, my slip-on shoe flew off my foot and into the dark insolent gulf. Bowing my head in defeat I walked back to the car, sans fish and with the hobbling gate of a one-shoed neophyte. How could this have happened?! I learned back then, and repeatedly throughout life, that you can’t force your will on the world. When you thumb your nose in defiance you often dig your hole deeper and double your suffering.

One could ask who was truly the stubborn one, the gulf with its eternal cycles and changing of the tides, or the child relating to that experience and refusing to accept the circumstances? Stopping now, have you ever asked yourself how you relate to challenging experiences, particularly unyielding ones? Do you ever feel victimized, neglected, imbittered? As humans we tend to relate in a way we are familiar with, like an interpersonal relationship. We get angry and frustrated at circumstances, but yelling at circumstances doesn’t hit a listening ear, so we either project that frustration on others or stew and get stuck with it.

​Sometimes we become sad and indignant, lamenting that we have been treated unfairly or have even been abandoned by grace. “I did everything I could, things should be better. This shouldn’t be happening to me”. We try to create distance and stonewall reality, often through a bottle or some distracting self-defeating vice. Any of these responses might create a response if they were aimed at another person, and they might change the circumstances, but it just doesn’t work that way with life. We are not well equipped to apply leverage to finality, but still, we try.

As adults we all live with certain unyielding realities. The stubborn things we face are challenges such as financial strain, struggles with fertility, a failing marriage, or enduring bigotry and hate. Families can fall apart, careers stall-out, and sometimes death touches our lives unexpectedly and uninvited. And those are just some of the big ones. Sometimes also the lid refuses to come off the jar, the dog refuses to listen, traffic just won’t let up, and the person in front of you in line unfathomably doesn’t understand the basics of line rules and etiquette.

Going back to that night at the pier, my family enjoyed an uproar of laughter at the fate of my shoe. My dad broke into an ad lib song he had made up about him, my older brother, and I as the three boys going fishing. The song had the prosody of a familiar nursery rhyme I can’t place. The fisher and men part a rapid staccato.  “Once there were three fishermen…. once there were three fishermen…. fisher, fisher, men, men, men…. fisher, fisher, men, men, men”. I can still hear it now, the second verse, “The little one kicked his shoe in the sea…. the little one kicked his shoe in the sea…. kicked it kicked, in the sea…kicked it kicked it, in the sea”. There wasn’t a dry eye among us. Any anger I had was long gone.

I love that memory. It is a shining example of why I love family and why family stands as one of my core values. It made not catching any fish, and adding insult to injury by loss of a shoe, such a minor detail in a larger picture. The experience was dynamic in anger, loss, humor, song, and togetherness. There is not one part that should be cut out. Life is dynamic and the good and bad all belong there.

Though we will all face trials, and many of our own realities are likely to be painful and non-negotiable, there is always something bigger to lean into. For example, your savings are a wreck, but you’re still a great parent. Your job is miserable, but you have a really supportive partner. You have been diagnosed with cancer, but your family is rallying around you. You set a healthy boundary with a dysfunctional situation, but you lean into your integrity, self-care, and honesty.

Leaning into what we value offers a changing of perspective that can bring with it healing. We can pair that with acceptance. Accepting life as it is, like, “yes this is happening, yes I can’t control it, yes I don’t like it, but no this isn’t everything”. Acceptance is a deliberate choice to not become exhausted swinging at fate. And it tends to work in flow with reality, unlike swinging, kicking, denying, or hiding. Although it is not easy, there is a space in acceptance to breath, to relate to reality in a helpful way, and an opportunity to choose to find value in what is already available to you.

Good luck at your own life’s pier, and if you do find yourself kicking, remember to tie your shoes tight!

Micah Jaksik, LPC

Micah specializes in working with adults and older teens dealing with anxiety, depression, anger, grief and loss. Read his full bio here.
<![CDATA[Breathe Into It: Using Mindfulness to Create Change]]>Tue, 06 Feb 2018 17:03:13 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/breathe-into-it-using-mindfulness-to-create-change
As a Counselor Intern, I feel fortunate to have a full-time job and see clients at the Austin Mindfulness Center on weekends. During the week, I counsel young adults with learning exceptionalities – many whom have been diagnosed with Autism, ADHD, or anxiety. Come to find out, my students and clients share some of the same challenges. For example, many struggle with acceptance of self or others; awakening from the trance of unworthiness and the tyranny of not enough-ness; embracing Life on Its terms; fostering healthy relationships; taming distractibility; and discovering promising paths and new possibilities in life.

Not surprisingly then, when our students were surveyed about what group themes they found appealing, they indicated an interest in Mindfulness! When tapped to teach this 15-week Mindfulness Series to a group of 7 students, how could I say no?! While Mindfulness may be trending now, it is also one of the most skillful means to break free of outdated patterns and breakthrough to greater health and well-being. 

Oftentimes referred to as “inner strength training”, mindfulness is essentially a practice whereby we pay attention to what is, on purpose, in the present, without judgment. Just as an Olympian invests in physical training to achieve excellence in their sport, mindfulness can not only heighten our performance, but also help us relieve stress, achieve emotional balance, improve relationships, and aid in our self-development – all of which can lead us to feeling empowered and able to fully engage with ourselves, others, and life.
In the easy-to-use manual, Learning to Breathe, psychologist Patricia Broderick, Ph.D., spells out a mindfulness curriculum for adolescents. Using the acronym BREATHE, her wise guidance offers insights and practices for cultivating mindfulness skills through body awareness, thoughtful reflection, emotional acceptance, focus and attention, self-care, and healthy habits of mind. Below are a few suggestions for how to utilize mindfulness practices to make meaningful, lasting changes whether you’re a teen or adult.


The body is an easily accessible “tool” for cultivating mindfulness. By attending to the breath as well as our physical sensations while engaged in a body scan or movement practices such as yoga, Tai Chi, walking meditation, dance, or martial arts, we are encouraged to focus on the here-and-now, leaving our past and worries about the future behind us. If doing this on your own, notice the color, temperature, texture, intensity, and location of physical sensations while refraining from judging them or getting pulled away by noisy self-talk. Take your time, soften towards uncomfortable sensations, and listen to your body. 


Reflections are thoughts and, as most of us can attest, our thinking is never-ending. Moreover, much of it is repetitive and unhelpful. At the center of noticing our thoughts is the ability to question the truthfulness and workability of them. One mindfulness skill that helps is “distancing from thoughts”. While most of our thoughts may seem automatic, and we may even think we are one with our thoughts, we nevertheless have the choice to stick with them. Some popular practices for allowing, then defusing, from our thoughts and stories—especially those that trigger unpleasant emotions, drudge up drama, or lead us to hurt ourselves and others—are open inquiry, “The Work” of Byron Katie, and especially meditation. Such efforts guide us to see, identify, and question thoughts that cause our suffering and address it with clarity.


You may have heard the adage, "You can’t heal what you can’t feel." It’s true, but embracing our emotions can be scary because doing so compels us to acknowledge our vulnerability. Moreover, while feelings are a natural aspect of our humanity, few of us have been instructed on how to navigate them. Even so, if we can learn how to approach emotions mindfully, we will recognize them as “energy surges” or waves in the ocean. Rather than repress or deny our feelings, we can greet them by paying attention to them, accepting them as they are, and watching them come and go with patience, understanding, and self-compassion. 

Here’s a tip. Next time you experience a difficult emotion, PAUSE. Take a moment to recognize and allow what you’re feeling. Ask yourself: “What is happening right now?” and “Can I let this be? Take note of what you're feeling (i.e., sad, angry, scared, etc.). Retreat to a private space, if possible. Resist complaining or blaming others for your discomfort. Do not seek out company right away. Let the feeling come, intensify then pass away. Afterwards, notice: you survived. While feelings are temporary, if some regularly resurface over a long period of time, you may want to reach out to others you trust for on-going support.


You’re not alone if you are someone who struggles to stay focused on one task at a time. At any time of day or night, we have options for how to direct our attention. While it can be helpful to multi-task and we are often asked to do so, single-tasking is at the core of mindfulness practice. It allows us to dedicate as much of our focus as possible to what we are doing in the moment. Paying attention then, encompasses a combination of conscious intention and discipline effort. Some mindfulness practices that are helpful for improving concentration include: active listening, eliminating distractions, working in a quiet environment, mindful eating, candle-gazing meditation, setting aside blocks of time for tasks, and taking time-outs.


Tenderness means we treat ourselves with kindness, compassion, and self-care. It does not mean letting ourselves off the hook or not expecting very much of ourselves. On the contrary, it’s recognizing we don’t help ourselves when we don’t take care of our insides as much as our outsides. Self-compassion helps us do that as it invites us to not only accept ourselves as we are, but also accept Life as It is here-and-now. 

According to Dr. Kristen Neff, author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, the three components of self-compassion are: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness allows us to tenderly care for ourselves the same way we would care for a friend who is struggling instead of harshly criticizing them. Common humanity connects us with our fellow human beings who are also imperfect. Mindfulness entails taking a balanced and accepting approach to our difficult emotions.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, especially to our “Inner Critic”, practicing tenderness with ourselves has multiple benefits. Such rewards may include a more stable sense of self, self-worth even in the context of failure, and self-esteem without the pitfalls of social comparisons, narcissism, or defensiveness that can accompany it. In addition, we are likely to experience less depression, stress, anxiety, and perfectionism along with more harmonious relationships because we are more forgiving and accepting of others too. 

Habits of Healthy Mind

Habits of a healthy mind are developed over time through consistent practice. Consider from the multiple options above what mindfulness practices are appealing to you. Ask yourself the following questions: What have I learned about mindfulness? How could I use what I have learned? What can I do to remind myself to be more mindful in my daily life?  Some things that may be helpful: following through on your intention to engage in new practices; scheduling time for practice; taking classes; connecting with others who share an interest in mindful living; and utilizing books, magazines, websites, and more as resources. The Austin Mindfulness Center website, for example, features an extensive collection of guided meditations


Mindfulness empowers us, gives us an inner edge, and help us be our best self! There is no time like the present.  Take a moment now to commit to at least one method for cultivating more mindfulness through embodiment practices, defusing from troubling thoughts, establishing emotional equanimity, mastering attention for optimal performance, or softening into self-compassion for a kinder way of living. With mindfulness skills, you are not only bound to break out of old patterns and breakthrough to greater well-being in time, but also acquire the strength, positivity, and bandwidth to embrace anything life throws your way, transform yourself and situation, and live full-on, full-out the fullest expression of who you are.

Teresa Gross, LPC-Intern
​Supervised by John Jones, PhD

Teresa is a mindfulness-based therapist specializing in Life Transitions, Career, Relationships, Spirituality, Grief & Loss. She is available for Saturday appointments! Click here to read her full bio.
<![CDATA[Clean Up Your Messes Mindfully]]>Fri, 05 Jan 2018 20:37:12 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/clean-up-your-messes-mindfully
Every few months, I notice a theme emerge. Within the past year, such themes have included Patience, Boundaries, Self-acceptance, and now, Humility. While any of these “lesson plans” can be challenging and mistakes are a natural, unavoidable part of life, admitting we’ve done something wrong or hurt others regardless of our intentions can be difficult, if not downright humbling. 

Just recently, for example, I attempted a gift return with the help of Amazon customer service. Rather than initiating a gift return, however, the rep requested a regular return. Within seconds—and just as you can imagine—the gift-giver had been notified of my return. During the live conversation that followed his confused email to me, we agreed I would forward my gift to him along with a few extras as a “peace offering”. But, as I hung up the phone, not all was back to normal.  He was hurt and I felt guilty.

While we’ve all heard "we all make mistakes”, it can nevertheless be grueling to own our errors, feel the distressing disconnection that stems from them, and make amends. Now that I have my fair share of making mistakes, below are some suggestions coupled with mindfulness that can be helpful to not only recover from our messes and repair relationships, but also cultivate compassion for ourselves and others.
Own It

Take responsibility for what’s yours. Until we do, there is victimhood and as a victim, we rarely have the power or resourcefulness to help ourselves or rectify the situation. Of course, this requires humility. Most of us would rather be right than happy. Especially when triggered by events, it’s easier, and certainly more comfortable, to blame, shame, or complain. Alas, none of these strategies are useful. In fact, a defensive response is likely to drum up more drama or do more damage and does little to promote self-awareness or loving relationships. Acceptance must come first. To be clear, our acceptance of our human foibles does not mean we ARE wrong or bad or flawed, but rather we have DONE something wrong – that is, our behavior did not reconcile with our values or who we wanted to be in the moment.

Feel It

If you’re like me, you have a strong preference to not feel difficult or negative emotions. Countless times, I’ve seen clients who struggle with their emotionality in the same way. Since we are not taught from an early age that emotions are a natural or welcomed aspect of our humanity, or instructed how to navigate them, they can feel overwhelming, unmanageable, and overly vulnerable. So, we deny or repress them in various ways.

In my own story, I felt waves of sadness, anger, shame, guilt, and fear as well as variations on these emotions. There was no way around it. So, after ending my phone call with the gift-giver, I took a seat to attend to the flood of feelings. In the discomfort, I withheld judgment (as much as possible) and just noticed. In time, most feelings finally did move through me as did the critical thoughts that fueled them.  
When experiencing emotion, I invite you to do the same. Find a safe space. Stay with it. Be kind to yourself. Give it some time. Say what’s so if that’s helpful. Trust, this too shall pass. It will. Soon enough. If feelings linger or repeatedly come up, it can also be helpful to reach out to others you trust to tell your story or ask for support.

Think About It
Once the emotional intensity of the mistake wanes, it is wise to reflect on our experience from the inside-out. Such conscious efforts can help us gain in self-awareness. In doing so, we may discover we felt hurt or attacked and with our actions, we were simply trying to protect ourselves or inject some iota of control back into a challenging situation so we could feel safe and connected again. Perfectly understandable.

In addition, we may see how our beliefs, expectations, or interpretation of events, along with situational factors, may have played a part in the unfolding of events. Or, we might spot an over-identification with our self-concept as the true impetus for our reaction. Perhaps, we even recognize or discover attributes about ourselves, including some we would rather not know about. 

Alas, such insights and observations—while potentially difficult to accept—are good-to-know. When combined with mindfulness and self-compassion, they can aid us in taming our defensiveness and improve our ability to respond with right action next time. 

See It Through Their Eyes

When we are the one who has made an error, it’s important to not only consider our own experience, but also imagine the other’s experience of it. Your inquiry could begin by reframing your inner dialogue and softening your defensive justifications. Ask yourself, “How can I relate to the other person right now?”, “Have I ever been in their shoes or in a similar situation?”, and “How may I have hurt them with my behavior?”  While doing this can be a stretch when you are feeling upset, viewing events through the other’s eyes is nevertheless an important component of the healing process for you and any others involved. In my example, I put myself in the gift-giver’s role and acknowledged that his gift, albeit not quite a fit for me, was a token of his love for me. Moreover, I could empathize with my gift-giver having offered a gift in the past that was not well-received.

Try a Little Tenderness

Acknowledging the other person’s experience of events can not only engender understanding, empathy, and compassion for them, but for ourselves. Compassion awakens us to our shared humanity. It invites a feeling of belonging. In his article, The Kindness Cure, Mark Bertin, MD affirms the impact of compassion on ourselves. He states, “[compassion] practice can lessen our sense of isolation and help us feel more connected and purposeful.” (Mindful Magazine, February 2018). Indeed, energy spent on guilt, shame, fear, and punishment is energy wasted. Alternately, energy invested in expanding consciousness with compassion for ourselves and others is much more wisely spent. Try a little tenderness. It’s a form of kindness, mercy, and grace. It heals. It brings hope. It supports us. And, we can all use more of that!

Say What’s So

Communicate even if it’s hard. Be honest, but kind. Share your own experience; not your projection of the other’s experience. Validate their experience by your listening. Be open to feedback that may be hard to hear, but good to know. Pay attention. Withhold judgment. Stay present. While hard conversations can test skillful and unskillful communicators alike, they can also cultivate a depth of connection that allows newfound transparency, vulnerability, and authenticity in your relationships. While it was doubtless a challenge for me to come clean with my gift-giver, for example, I’m satisfied I reached out to have that conversation. Our dialogue not only served to openly address the tense situation, but eventually brought us closer together.

Allow Space 

Allowing space is hard, if not one of THE hardest things to do, when faced with conflict because it threatens our sense of connection. As discomforting as it is to let others be unhappy with us, however, we must find a way to let them think what they’re going to think, feel how they’re going feel, and do whatever they need to do in order to work it out. 

Mindfulness at this stage in the healing process can be helpful by inviting us to slow down and focus on our own process, rather than invest our time and effort into trying to convince, cajole, or coerce others to come around, approve of us, or agree with our actions. In fact, such endeavors are often met with more hurt and resistance and are likely to ultimately result in even greater separation – the opposite of what we really want. 

The truth of it is, we simply cannot expect or force others to like us, what we do, or how we choose to do things. We can’t change others. What we can do is take a step back, accept ourselves and our situation, and painstakingly wait it out while others reset in whatever way they need to before re-engaging with us. 

Make Amends 

Most people prefer harmonious relationships. If you share the same desire and value the relationship, it is often a good idea to make amends when at fault. It goes without saying that apologizing (even if you’re convinced the other has also made a mistake) can go a long way in breaking down barriers and softening boundaries on both sides as well as open the door to reconnection. Doing so reveals your willingness to repair the relationship. Moreover, the courage to apologize and the wisdom to do it wisely is not only at the heart of healthy relationships, but a hallmark of maturity, self-worth, and integrity. In addition to a sincere apology, you may also want to consider additional steps you could take to remedy the situation, then make them happen. If at a loss for how to do this, you could even ask the other(s) for suggestions on how to turn things around.

Let Go

Life is now. Live in the present. Let go of the past. What’s done is done. Easier said than done, right? Even if it is difficult at times to take a step back, revisit our experiences, and detach from any residual blame or guilt, there is a way to break free from the past and your pain that doesn’t include denial, repression, or resistance. 

One of my most trusted strategies for letting go is a combination of acceptance, trust in life’s curriculum for me, and an appreciation for learning. Behind this strategy is the belief that I was doing the best I could–as was the other person–coupled with the confidence that there are no mistakes in truth and that all of us are here to learn and grow, even as excruciating or as exasperating as that is at times. 

Indeed then, if all is meant to serve, there is no point in holding onto hurts and all the more reason for me to forgive myself and others as well as appreciate any lessons along the way. While it’s true, this is difficult to do and not all of our efforts will produce the outcomes we may have hoped for, we will undoubtedly evolve and grow in transformative ways. 

See the Good

When we make mistakes, it’s often easy to get caught up in the form of the experience – that is, what occurred, who was involved, how it happened, etc. What I have found more useful, however, is taking the time to find the good that may have materialized, or may potentially manifest, out of such demanding experiences. Such positive outcomes could include getting better at having hard conversations; embracing greater openness, authenticity, and intimacy in relationships; or as mentioned earlier, eye-opening, albeit not always welcomed, insights and observations about ourselves, others, or our relationships. When looking back on one of your previous mistakes, can you spot any goodness that came from it? If so, what was it?

Mindfulness Like Love
When we make messes, it can be unsettling. Mistakes may hurt us and others. They may rupture our relationships. This is why it’s especially important to bring mindfulness to our recovery as well as the repair process. Each of these suggestions, done mindfully, integrates purposeful attention, acceptance, present-moment awareness, and non-judgment. Given such qualities of action, mindfulness then not only has the potential to relieve ourselves and others from suffering and aid our learning, healing, and growth, but can also be experienced as a liberating act of love. Much more than the perfect antidote for “mistakes”, mindfulness, like love, is thus a saving grace, a beautiful blessing, and one of the most curative practices we can do to heal from any painful life experience, strengthen our cherished relationships, and be the best person we can be.

Teresa Gross, LPC-Intern
Supervised by John Jones, PhD, LPC-S
Teresa is a mindfulness-based therapist specializing in Life Transitions, Career, Relationships, Spirituality, Grief & Loss. She is available for Saturday appointments! Click here to read her full bio.
<![CDATA[Holiday Family Survival Guide]]>Wed, 13 Dec 2017 19:09:53 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/holiday-family-survival-guide
With the holidays quickly approaching, many people will find themselves with a seasonal case of irritation and discomfort just thinking about spending time with family. Like Cinderella as the clock hits midnight, your comfortable polished sense of self quickly fringes and unravels when returning to the context of family. Perhaps you find yourself snapping at others, stuck in disagreement, or off hiding somewhere until it all passes. This is a quick survival guide for those who have chosen to return home this year.

Spending time with family, why do we do it? 

Some of us might say, “because I have to. I don’t really have a choice. If I don’t what will they say”. When something becomes the habitual “thing to do” we often have the sense that we aren’t making a choice. Step number one in surviving this holiday season is to give yourself some credit. You are making a choice, and there is likely a very honorable reason to do so.
When you choose to get together, you are valuing family. 

So, what’s the big deal with that? Perhaps something tells you this is important to do, despite that fact that it isn’t always easy going? If you search your past memories, you might find examples of times when family really has mattered. Many of those memories are precious, they might bring a smile to your face, and if you have lost someone, it probably still hurts. Those feelings are real and important. It’s why we keep reaching out and trying.

How might you feel about yourself, if you consider yourself a person who is actively choosing family? Somebody who is able to take on challenge because it feels important to do. Is that a trait that you would feel good about? If so, give yourself credit for making that choice.

When we go see family they are sure to be different, and different can feel difficult. 

Our disagreements can range from politics to religion, how to handle things in the kitchen, or what the definition of “on time” is. We’re also face-to-face, so the safety of Facebook for slinging mud is removed. So here is the second area to give yourself credit for. Our differences make up our diversity, and by making room for your family to be different, you are valuing diversity. 

How do we benefit if we are all the same? How does that work out in the real world? What do we stand to gain when we lean on each other’s strengths and challenge each other in seeking balance? In order to do that we must embrace differences. It’s tempting to say, “well sure I value diversity, but not THAT kind”! 

Just how much control do we have over our difference from others? The answer here should be easy, it’s zero control. You can grab the tug-of-war rope on this issue, hold on tight and pull, but in your experience how does this usually work out? When has persistently resisting someone worked to change them?

Drop the rope this holiday season. 

No matter how hard you pull, you cannot force that change. Holding on to the rope takes your energy and squanders your attention. Your attention can serve you much better if you direct it towards the things you feel gratitude for this year. This is a great time to stop and take a few deep breaths. How does holding tightly onto being right make you the kind of family member you would like to be? How would dropping the rope and re-centering on why you love that person help you in being the family you value?

Next on the list of anxieties, what if you already know something is going to be unpleasant? You are already thinking about a known factor, something that is definitely going to happen, and definitely going to suck. To start with we can look inward and say, “I’m sorry you are having to go through this”. This isn’t a wallowing in pity statement, but a chance to step back and recognize that you are going to endure something unpleasant, and that does suck.

Acknowledging this feeling of remorse can help free up some space to hold your pain more gently. From this place, you understand that you may need a second at times to take a break. It is with an understanding of the effort it is taking for you to show up that you may find it easier to excuse yourself for not being perfectly charming or on point. If you found a bird with an injured wing, would it not make sense to hold it gently, do what you can to help, and understand if it doesn’t sing you a song? Remembering to drop the rope with things outside your control, redirect then to use your hands to hold your pain softly and with some understanding.

In summary, during the tough moments, this year take a second to breathe and give yourself credit for your choices. Drop the rope when it isn’t getting you anywhere, and celebrate yourself as the person who is showing up. It may not all be pretty, but you can feel good about yourself and your choices. Wellbeing comes from doing what’s important, especially when it is most challenging.

Micah Jaksik, LPC
Micah specializes in working with adults and older teens dealing with anxiety, depression, anger, grief and loss.
<![CDATA[Getting Unstuck: 5 Steps to Freedom and Flow]]>Tue, 05 Dec 2017 17:17:51 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/getting-unstuck-5-steps-to-freedom-and-flow
Freedom and Flow
Ever notice the everyday tyranny of Not Enoughness? It goes something like this: “I’m not enough. You’re not enough. Life is not enough.” Such a mindset can inevitably lead us to feel hopelessly STUCK coupled with feelings of frustration, impatience, disappointment, sadness, and at times, even resignation.

In stuckness, we may be asking ourselves, “How in the hell did I get here?”, but more importantly, “What’s the way out and how much longer will it take?” Eager to find comfort again, we may be desperately searching for workable solutions or urgently seeking ways to change ourselves, change others, or change our situation. Perhaps, we fall back on old, unhealthy habits to cope or often catch ourselves venting to others over and over again, yet notice it does little to provide the lasting relief we need. Perhaps even, we’re ready to walk away because nothing seems to work. We’re still stuck and we’re still suffering. 

From one humbled by the vexing habit of longing for “something more” and frequently feeling stuck, I can assure you there is another way. Below are five empowering steps to experiencing more freedom and flow in your life.
Accept “What Is”

One of my favorite authors, Byron Katie, wisely posited, “Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don't have to like it... it's just easier if you do.” Contrary to popular belief, avoidance or resistance is not the answer. Instead, it’s acceptance in the present moment that actually carries you through when there is a gap between where you are and where you want to be. 

Acceptance is an active state of awareness that moves you towards wise action, yet the true meaning of it is often misunderstood. In her article, “Keep on Moving”, Holly Rogers, MD states, “Acceptance is not the same as liking, agreeing with, or passively resigning yourself to anything, or making a decision about what you choose” (Mindful Magazine, December 2017). Alternately, acceptance takes work and is a practice that challenges us to stop complaining; acknowledge reality; and let go of how we think things “should” be or wish them to be. It invites us to act consciously to promote change where we can; relinquish control over what we get; and make peace with the process as well as the product of our efforts. 

So how might we cultivate acceptance of What Is? Just having a willingness and holding a conscious intention to accept things as they are is a great place to start. Alongside an intention, methods such as mindfulness, meditation, embodiment through movement practices, psychotherapy, and spiritual study as well as questioning our thoughts, rewriting our story, and tools for self-discovery are often very useful. 

Connect with Values

Values are like a compass. Values are ways we want to behave on an on-going basis, qualities of being, or directions we want to move towards throughout life. They help keep us “on track” in our day-to-day experience. They are not feelings, what we hope to receive from others, virtues, morals, ethics, or codes of conduct. Nor are they desires, wants, needs, or goals. Goals are something to be completed or achieved. Values, on the other hand, are expressions of what truly matters. 

Values are on-going and available to us in every moment of each day. According to Russ Harris in his book, ACT Made Simple, there are five key attributes of values. Values, he explains, are here-and-now; never need to be justified; often need to be prioritized; best held lightly; and are freely chosen. Essentially, values of this nature can not only help us get unstuck, but also infuse our lives with greater purpose, passion, and meaning. Learning, healing, growth, freedom, and peacefulness are a few of my values.  What are some of your own deeply-felt core values?
Commit to Values-based Action

When talking about values-based action, the Serenity Prayer comes to mind. This prayer reminds me to accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can, and develop the maturity and wisdom to know the difference. In moving towards greater freedom and flow in life, committed action speaks to our efforts to change the things we can. It exacts a fiery will to readily adapt to current challenges, change or persist in behaviors that work, and do whatever it takes to live in alignment with what is most important to us. 

In moving towards what we want, however, it is helpful to be patient and appreciate the process. Attempts at flexible and effective values-based action may not immediately deliver us to the desired changes we have in mind. Until then, we can at least begin to acknowledge our efforts and the positive emotions that are likely to emerge when living in alignment with our values. In doing so, the change process offers its own kind of reward. In truth, our acceptance and appreciation of the process despite outcomes can be a real life-saver, especially when significant or difficult changes need to be made or the time is takes to effect these changes will likely demand much time, effort, and resources or involve others.

Ask yourself while keeping your values in mind, “What is the most sensible move I can make to get closer to where I want to be?” Break it down. Think “baby steps”. Make it something you can do in the short-term – today, tomorrow, or next week.

Be Grateful

While there are many ways to get unstuck, one of the most essential and powerful means is gratitude. Perhaps, you’ve heard this many times before. In my own life, I intentionally recall what I’m thankful for not only when I’m feeling stuck, but when things are not going my way in my day-to-day experience. When doing this coupled with the breath, my frustration slowly, but surely, falls away. And when I’m in a particularly dark or demanding cycle, I return to my Gratitude Journal to write down three things I’m grateful for each night. 

Take a moment now to count your blessings. If gratitude seems too far of a stretch for you, I invite you to pick just one thing to appreciate and focus on that. Like acceptance, gratitude can not only help carry you through hard times, but also invite a state of greater peacefulness, ease, and comfort.

Trust Life

Life is benevolent and all my experiences lead to my greatest good. I choose to believe this and the idea that I’m loved and cared for by Everything—the raw aliveness of existence. This understanding is central to my perspective on life, yet I recognize it may not resonate with everyone. We are each on our own unique journey and while we share the human condition, our lessons and experiences as well as our paths to healing and growth may not be similar. 

Yet if such a notion rings true for you, I believe it can help a great deal not only in navigating the vicissitudes of daily life, but also in moving through extreme losses, life-altering challenges, or existential crises that can leave us feeling woefully stuck. In my own experience, it also inspires the humility, courage, and fierce strength to meet life on its terms. When in trust, I remember my life is an adventure and I am not lost. I realize I’m exactly where I need to be. I believe that everything is going to be ok….eventually.  

You are the hero in your story

Oftentimes, the painful experience of stuckness is rooted in the belief that we are not enough, others are not enough, and life is not enough. It may be frustrating, disappointing, and downright disheartening at times, yet it doesn’t have to be that way.  These five steps or practices can offer a release. Try one or all of them. Stay open. Give it time. Be kind to yourself and others; you are still learning. And, trust what comes. In her book, A Heroic LifeGina Lake reminds us, “Not only do things naturally move on to something new, but you are likely to have become a better human being for having gone through the fire of your trials. You are bound to have become stronger, more positive, and better able to cope with any future difficulties. Challenges transform you into the hero that each of you is meant to be.”
Teresa Gross, LPC-Intern
​Supervised by John Jones, PhD, LPC-S

Teresa specializes in working with people going through life transitions, career changes, relationship problems, spirituality, grief and loss. She is available for Saturday appointments and offers a discounted rate for counseling.
<![CDATA[Therapist Spotlight: Micah Jaksik, LPC]]>Wed, 22 Nov 2017 19:05:22 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/therapist-spotlight-micah-jaksik-lpc
Micah with best friend Monty.
What made you decide to become a counselor?
I first came to appreciate counseling as a teen struggling with the loss of a friend to suicide. This was a very trying time for me, and being a teen is already challenging enough without major traumas. In counseling, I appreciated the space to get in touch with what I was going through, and to find growth out of struggle. The whole experience was really meaningful for me, and it began to give me an idea of what I would want to do with my life. 

In my personality, I also naturally gravitate toward the role of listener. I have learned that to get out of the way and let someone talk lends itself to meaningful conversation and establishing a connection. I believe good counseling requires those elements.

If you could teach the world one skill or technique to improve their lives, what would it be?
Mindful breathing. It can be broadly used to help with many problems like anger, anxiety, and depression, however, it can also promote positive health targets like healthy blood pressure, lowered stress, and hormone balance. 
What is the most common problem your clients bring to you?
The most frequent issue is when a person is beginning to feel depressed and has experienced it before, so they hope this time to do something about it earlier. I think many people have a previous experience with depression and know how bad things can get if they don’t reach out, and they also probably know how much it can help once you do start talking about it. 

Have you personally been in counseling and if so, what did you learn about yourself?
I have been in counseling at various points in my life. Counseling is something I think all people would benefit from at some time or another during their lifespan. One thing I learned was to be mindful of the things I carry. That could be self-imposed responsibility for taking care of others, criticism for myself or others, expectations, regrets, unhelpful thoughts, they all have a weight that adds up emotionally. All of those things make up your context, and it helps to manage stress when you are aware of those things. So I learned acceptance in holding lightly and gently the tough experiences I had but maybe did not want.

If you could recommend one book to all your clients, what would it be?
Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong: A Guide to Life Liberated from Anxiety by Kelly G. Wilson and Troy DuFrene. I think this book has a lot to offer in terms of learning helpful ways to face worry, challenge, and adversity.

What inspires you to help others?
I find inspiration in kindness. Kindness is not always easy but is often powerful, and I believe it brings us closer to our better human nature. I found that witnessing the kindness of the gulf communities as they responded to hurricane Harvey was deeply inspiring. I know what it is like to be in need, and I know the feeling of thanks when someone is there for me. Counseling is one way I get to practice kindness and help others learn kindness toward themselves.
Who is your ideal client?
My ideal client has a long history of living with anxiety, and likely feels they have ‘left a lot on the table’ in life, so to speak. They have a sense that life is passing by, and they just won’t get what they want. They find themselves stuck in decision paralysis. They have high expectations for themselves, tend to be hard on themselves, and struggle with self-esteem. This person spends far more time daydreaming about the past, wishing they could get a redo, than they would like to admit. If you’re reading this and those things ring true for you, consider reaching out, these are issues I love to work with.

How do you personally practice self-care?
I believe self-care is about being true to yourself, meaning we honor that fact that we are made of a mosaic of pieces. Favoring any one piece at the cost of others is not sustainable. I think it is really common nowadays that many of us find most our time dedicated to work, and then the other areas of our lives are a dumpster-fire. Self-care for me starts with attention to both the mind and body.

With regard to my body, I have found that routine exercise, attention to nutrition, and making time for rest are pillars of self-care. In valuing my physical health, my energy and mood have a more pronounced feeling of vitality, which helps me get out there and do some living. That’s where my mind gets the care it needs.

Self-care activities for me include having fun barbecuing, experimenting making pepper sauces, taking my dogs out hiking and watching them play, and game nights with friends. I would also add that as an introvert, another huge part of finding life balance for me is making time for solitude. In this space I enjoy silence, I can meditate, read a book, and just make room to ‘be me’.

<![CDATA[How To Be An Introvert]]>Thu, 26 Oct 2017 03:19:32 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/how-to-be-an-introvert
Photo by Jacalyn Beales.
​Some people naturally prefer quiet settings and spending time alone or in the company of only one or two other people. Thirty to fifty percent of the population is like this. This is introversion, a common and naturally occurring personality trait. However, sometimes introverted folks can start to feel like there is something wrong with them.

​Our society promotes the idea that everyone should be outgoing and gregarious, with a large group of friends and a busy social schedule. Because of this, introverts may start to feel like they need to change who they are in order to be accepted and successful. This can lead to self-doubt, anxiety, and a neglect of the gifts that come along with introversion. Here are some tips to help introverts accept and care for themselves.     
Understand introversion. There is nothing wrong with you!
A common explanation of the difference between introverts and extroverts revolves around where people get their energy from. Introverts tend to lose energy when they are around other people and gain energy when they are alone. Extroverts are the opposite – they gain energy when they are around other people and lose energy when they are by themselves. There is nothing right or wrong with either of these ways of being in the world. What is important is that you know how to best replenish yourself. It is also important that the people in your life understand and accept how you function best, allowing you to recharge in quiet when needed.  
​One of the reasons for this difference is that introverts' nervous systems are very reactive. Research shows that introverts respond more quickly and intensely to stimulation, both outside of themselves and internally. One of the parts of the brain that is highly-reactive in introverts is the amygdala. Susan Cain explores introversion in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. She writes, “The amygdala serves as the brain's emotional switchboard, receiving information from the senses and and then signaling the rest of the brain and the nervous system how to respond. One of its functions is to instantly detect new or threatening things in the environment – from an airborne Frisbee to a hissing serpent – and send rapid-fire signals through the body that trigger the fight-or-flight response.”
Because of the high-reactivity of introverts' amygdala, introverts are much more sensitive to sound, movement, texture, smell, and changes in the environment than extroverts. If an introvert and extrovert are sitting together in a room and there is a slight noise outside, the introvert will notice it right away while the extrovert might not even register it. Furthermore, because the amygdala is in the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain, the introvert may not only register the sound, but also have an emotional response to the sound. Cain writes introverts “tend to think and feel deeply about what they've noticed, and to bring an extra degree of nuance to everyday experiences.”   
All of this is to say that an introvert's brain at rest is simply more active than an extrovert's brain. This is neither good or bad, just the way things are. Because of this difference in brain activity, introverts and extroverts vary considerably in how much outside stimulation they need to function best. 
Schedule downtime. Find quiet and spacious places.
Introverts need quiet more than extroverts. One of the most important self-care practices for introverts is regular time in quiet environments or time alone. Make sure that you are regularly taking time for yourself, particularly if you have to spend a lot of time in stimulating environments for work. Find quiet places where you can take a break. If you have to go to a crowded event or party, take some time to go outside every once in a while.
These breaks are also good times to practice mindfulness. Notice your breathing and the temperature of the air on your skin. If you are outside, notice what the sky looks like, how the clouds are moving or how the stars are shining. Listen to the wind in the trees. Take in the present moment. Connect with yourself. And then go back in when you are refreshed.
Cain writes, “Once you understand introversion and extroversion as preferences for certain levels of stimulation, you can begin consciously trying to situate yourself in environments favorable to your own personality – neither overstimulating nor understimulating, neither boring nor anxiety-making. You can organize your life in terms of what personality psychologists call 'optimal levels of arousal' and what I call 'sweet spots,' and by doing so feel more energetic and alive than before.”
It is important to plan ahead and find those “sweet spots” so that you don't fall into the trap of avoiding. If you are not getting enough quiet time for yourself, then that work party you have to go to might seem like an intolerable nightmare that you want to bail on. When we start avoiding things, we open the door to guilt and lethargy. But if you plan quiet time ahead of, during, and after the party, you are taking care of yourself in a healthy way that leads to more energy, instead of guilt and self-doubt. 
Remember that you don't need anyone's permission to take a break or leave a party early. Sometimes introverts force themselves to stay in overstimulating environments because they don't want to seem rude or weird. But it is okay to step outside or leave after an hour if it is too much for you right then. You don't have to explain to anyone else why you spent all weekend at home. If you do want to explain, it can be as simple as “I need some quiet time,” leaving it at that.   
Embrace the gifts of introversion.
Introversion comes with a lot of very important gifts. As mentioned above, introverts tend to be more sensitive, both physically and emotionally. Introverts are usually very discerning and thoughtful. Introverts tend to be good listeners and understand things quickly. Introverts are drawn to the arts and sciences more than extroverts. 
Cain notes, “The highly sensitive tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic.... They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive.... The love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions – sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments – both physical and emotional – unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss – another person's shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly,”
These are all wonderful qualities that an introvert may overlook in themselves. If you are an introvert, you have wonderful gifts that the world needs. You can offer deep support to others, and help them think through things in a nuanced, empathetic way. You probably know how to create comfortable environments for yourself and others. You may understand artistic, scientific, and/or theoretical fields easier than others, and can contribute to these fields for the betterment of all. Take some time to notice and appreciate these strengths that you have. Make a commitment to using these gifts for yourself and others.
Cultivate quality friendships.
There is often a misperception that all introverts or shy, or that they don't like being around others. This is not true. Shyness and introversion are actually two separate qualities. Cain writes “Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.” Because of this, there can be shy introverts and calm introverts, just as there can be shy extroverts and calm extroverts. 
Introverts typically do enjoy the company of others, although they prefer to only interact with one or two people at a time. If they are around a large group of people, they may be fine for an hour or so, but find themselves tiring much more quickly than others. Introverts also tend to prefer deeper, more meaningful connections and conversations rather than small talk, which many introverts dislike.
Introverts prefer to have a few close friends rather than a large group of acquaintances. So find and cultivate quality friendships. Spend time in one-on-one conversations with people you feel comfortable with. Find people who share similar interests in arts or sciences and plan time around those interests. Maybe this means taking a friend or two to the museum or to watch that new documentary about the solar system. Ensure that you have people in your life who understand and support your need for quieter environments and enjoy the same things you do.
Practice mindfulness. Find quiet and spacious places inside yourself.
Practicing meditation and mindfulness can be helpful for everyone, but may offer special benefits to introverts. As we have discussed, an introvert's brain at rest is still a very busy place. Introverts may be more likely to get lost in their thoughts than extroverts, sometimes losing touch with the present moment and their bodies. Meditation and mindfulness can help introverts get some distance from their thoughts, creating a more spacious awareness internally. Finding the moments of stillness between your thoughts and between your breaths will help your mind quiet and relax.
One of the major research findings on meditation and mindfulness practices is increased connectivity between the amygdala and other regions of the brain. This means that even if an introvert's amygdala is highly-reactive at baseline, meditation will increase connections to other parts of the brain that will help moderate the high activity of the amygdala. If we think of a highly-reactive amygdala as being quick to signal the fight-or-flight response, an introvert may be more likely to interpret unexpected sounds or changes in the environment as a threat. With regular meditation, the amygdala will connect to other parts of the brain that will help the amygdala more quickly and accurately determine that stimuli in the environment are not threatening, leading to a decrease in stress.
Practicing meditation and mindfulness can help you find and keep that quiet place inside yourself, so it will be easier to venture out into the noisy world without getting overwhelmed and losing touch with the unique gifts you have to offer the world. 

Wendy Smith, LCSW
Therapist specializing in anxiety, depression, grief and loss with teens and young adults. Read her full bio here.
<![CDATA[Self Criticism and The Big Bang Theory]]>Thu, 19 Oct 2017 19:12:31 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/self-criticism-and-the-big-bang-theory
How many of us live every single day with nagging self-criticism? For those of us that can say yes to that question, it’s a nasty secret to carry around, smiling on the outside but beneath the surface, there is a near constant sense of dissatisfaction. “If only” this had happened, “I should have” known better, “what’s wrong with me”, “of course” that happened.

I know from where I sit, self-criticism works at deflating my motivation, I get discouraged. On the other hand, If I try and use that criticism as motivation, as in “get it together”, any progress comes with a sense of irritation rather than reward. It’s kind of a lose-lose situation, but what can be done about it? It’s so automatic, and the thoughts are in my voice, coming from me, right?
Are you familiar with the T.V. show “The Big Bang Theory”? The show is in its 10th season and nationally syndicated, so it seemed like a reasonably good reference point. If you are familiar with the show, you are likely well acquainted with the character Sheldon Cooper. Sheldon routinely offers his thoughts and evaluations, mostly unsolicited, as if they are fact. As viewers, we are “in” on this gag that Sheldon has a blind-spot when it comes to empathizing, and that his comments aren’t necessarily true or helpful. The fact that Sheldon is “off” is much of what makes the show work. 
It’s funny how close Sheldon’s tendencies compare to our own self-critical minds. Our minds at best want to help, at worst don’t know when to shut up, and there is something that is “just off” when it comes to how helpful criticism really is. Those thoughts are rarely caring toward feelings, they are not wise to the complete truth, and are not helpful in actually making things better. If you took the harsh things you say to yourself, and instead had Sheldon sling them at you, imagine how you would feel? Take a moment and imagine it. For me, it kind of resembles that shift like when I allow myself to gripe about friends or family when I get annoyed, but if a stranger says something critical about them, they better watch out. That context changes everything.

The next time your mind hands your self-criticism, try repeating it in Sheldon’s voice and see if it still lands the same way. I know this feels kind of silly, but when I try it the words seem to sound more foreign, they don’t feel automatically true, and I kind of make that face that Leonard makes like, “really”? It creates some distance from those words, and in that space, I have more room for clarity. I don’t have to get stuck evaluating whether the thoughts are true or false, they can just be thoughts, thoughts that I know are not helping. When we can let go of unhelpful thoughts, it opens up room to focus on what is important. Opening up and focusing on what is important is much more likely to work in your service and be helpful, than getting stuck in an old reflex designed to tear you down.

One final note, if you aren’t familiar with Sheldon or he just doesn’t work for you, try out someone else. It truly doesn’t matter who, but the better you can imagine and hear this 3rd party in your mind’s eye the better. As long as those critical thoughts sound like you, they are able to sneak below the radar as “true” and “from you”. The more important question is “who do you want to be, and how do you want to get started today”?

Micah Jaksik, LPC
Psychotherapist specializing in anxiety, depression, and older teens.
<![CDATA[Therapist Spotlight: Kathleen Womansong, LPC, LCDC]]>Fri, 13 Oct 2017 18:28:57 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/therapist-spotlight-kathleen-womansong-lpc-lcdc
Kathleen Womansong
Kathleen and her granddaughter Hailey (so cute!)
What made you decide to become a counselor?
Seeing a counselor helped me get through a rough time in my life. She showed me the power of being present with another person and help them embrace themselves in the here and now. Counseling is my life’s passion and I love my work.

If you could teach the world one skill or technique to improve their lives, what would it be?
I would teach self-compassion and self-acceptance. Many of us constantly compare ourselves to others and inwardly demean ourselves and our bodies for falling short. We struggle to please others so that we can feel good about ourselves but later we find that we have lost ourselves in the process. Only by learning to embrace ourselves - flaws and all – we can fill our own well with compassion and give to others freely from the overflow.

What is the most common problem your clients bring to you?
Anxiety. Living in this Information Age is more stressful than we realize. We have forgotten the art of contemplation and self-reflection. Think of the farmer who plowed the fields a hundred years ago. He spent hours walking with his only view the back of the mule. He would spend that time allowing his mind to reflect on all that was important to him with little or no distractions. Today we are constantly bombarded with messages that we need this or that to be enough. Our minds are overwhelmed with processing information and our emotions follow each thought. We are consumed with doing several things at a time and have forgotten the art of being. I love watching children play because they know how to just be. They have not forgotten that now is all there is.

Have you personally been in counseling and if so, what did you learn about yourself?
I find personal counseling extremely helpful. Therapy helps me stay on track and prioritize my own self- care. I have learned that judging myself harshly in the past simply amplified my problems and drained me of the energy I needed to be there for the people I loved. I learned that it is not only okay but necessary to put the oxygen mask on myself first so I could help others.

If you could recommend one book to all your clients, what would it be?
The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner.

What inspires you to help others?
I believe we all deserve to have a sense of well-being and inner contentment. I have the honor and privilege of helping my clients find that for themselves.

Who is your ideal client?
My ideal client is willing to enter the process of healing. Sometimes a client has lost all sense of hope so I can offer that they borrow my hope for them until they can experience it for themselves. Sometimes we begin by dipping a toe in the water and asking for willingness to go farther. There are no rules for how and when readiness comes.

How do you personally practice self-care?
Meditation and morning journaling help set me in an attitude of gratitude to begin my day.  Walking a nature trail or just putting on music and dancing at home is the perfect ending to my day. I see my therapist as needed and do something creative every week. I often write poetry and paint on canvas and get on the floor with my grandchildren and play. 

Kathleen Womansong, LPC, LCDC
Kathleen specializes in working with anxiety and trauma, substance abuse, senior life transition, parenting and blended families.