Mind In A Jar
Here's how to make your very own Mind in a Jar!
Using your Mind in a Jar:
The glitter represents thoughts and feelings. When you get upset or angry, shake the jar up real good. As you watch the glitter fall to the bottom, focus on your breathing. Just watch the glitter fall and breathe in and out slowly. Notice how your thoughts start to slow down, and how feelings start to settle as the glitter makes its way to the bottom of the jar.
Even though some of those thoughts and feelings might not go away, notice how they don’t have to push you around or control your behavior. Take a big, big breath and slowly let it out. How do you feel? Do you need to talk? Do you need a hug? Find an adult and tell them what you need right now.
One of the best ways to take control of your psychological health is to get regular exercise. Its effective, empowering, healthy, and best of all, it's free.
Studies have shown the efficacy of engaging in regular exercise to be comparable to that of anti-depressant medication. Furthermore, these studies have also shown that individuals who exercised regularly versus took anti-depressant medication, had less relapse of depressive symptoms. This means that exercising regularly actually makes structural and long-term beneficial changes in you brain. Awesome right!?
Did you know that 75% of highly successful business executives said good physical fitness is "critical for career success at the executive level?” Imagine functioning as a high level executive of your own life. What would your life look like with better ability to focus, improved confidence, and enhanced ability to follow through on your goals and daily tasks?
If you get to Kerby Lane Café early enough on a Saturday morning, the time of day when you wait not necessarily for a table, but for an available high chair, you might get the chance to meet Dori Kelly, balloon artist and face painter. Dori saunters cheerfully from table to table sporting a fanciful balloon crown to showcase her handiwork. My two year old daughter Sofie requested a flower hat, which Dori swiftly fashioned with great flair. The pink flower protruded up from the back of the hat on a green stem and bounced playfully with every movement of her head.
Pancakes. Balloon hat. What more could a girl wish for?
When we arrived home we went into the backyard to blow bubbles and she proudly donned her new colorful headpiece. As she jumped around catching bubbles, the one-size-fits-all balloon hat eventually slipped off of her head and onto the grass. And then the inevitable happened.
Pop! Pop! Pop! . . . POP!
And it was gone.
What is it like to realize that you are wrong? Can you imagine a time when you knew you were wrong (and someone else was right) and what emotions you may have been feeling at the time? Probably not good ones, right? Why does being wrong create so much discomfort?
A recent neurological study (Hsu, 2005) found that even a small amount of ambiguity resulted in increased activity in the amygdala. This is the part of the brain that acts as an alarm system to your nervous system when there is a threat, mobilizing you for fight or flight. The reward center of the brain called the ventral striatum, which usually shows increased activity when you are anticipating something good is about to happen; this brain structure showed a decrease in activity as ambiguity increased.
When you are right about something, you are certain you are right. Or rather, when you feelright, you experience this rightness as certainty. And it is the certainty that our brains crave. Even if you are wrong, you may still feel right, like the cartoon coyote suspended in mid air before realizing he has run off the end of a cliff! In this case even a false sense of certainty still feels right. Up until you realize you are wrong, of course.
We’ve learned that being wrong, or making mistakes inevitably leads to failure. And being right is the way to success. And for many, success is just a means to feel loved and to belong. So if these basic human needs are what are at stake, it makes sense that being wrong is such a threat to our nervous systems.
Unfortunately, humans hate being wrong so much that when our rightness is questioned or doubted, we can go to great lengths to cling to our version of the truth. The lens that we look through does not appear to be a lens at all, but reality itself. So when other people have a different perspective, those people are either:
1) Ignorant- they don’t have the right information;
2) Stupid- they have the right information, but aren’t smart enough to make proper sense of it; or
3) Evil- they have the right information and understand it, but have chosen to intentionally and nefariously abandon the truth.
These judgments add to our already entrenched positions so we are quick to draw swords on any given issue. You can see evidence of this in the comment threads following almost any article or blog post online. There always seems to be at least two polarities of opinion on almost any issue. I am constantly perplexed at the lack of middle ground represented and further, when a middle ground is presented, how easily it gets misinterpreted by one or both polarities.
Certainty deadens the vitality of life. It puts it into a convenient yes or no box. Truth vs. fiction. Right vs. wrong. What if these boxes were imaginary? Really. Imagine that those boxes dissolved and our perceptions had to just be there suspended in nothingness without the support of those imaginary boxes. Now what? It’s uncomfortable isn’t it? We rely so heavily on those illusions that being without them seems almost completely unfamiliar. Have you ever struggled with a piece of information and you say, “I just don’t know what to think about all this.” In other words, “What box does this go in?” And until you find a place for it, you just feel unsettled; not right.
This is unfortunate. It’s unfortunate, not because we prefer certainty, but because we need it in order to feel secure. It’s one thing to want to be right. It’s another thing to have to be. Mindfulness teaches us to let go of “have to” and to accept the world as it is, not as we want it to be. Even if that means you’re the world’s biggest fuck-up, (because somebody has to be) your value as a person and your capacity for living meaningfully has nothing at all to do with being right or wrong. It is possible to just be.
Written by Jiovann Carrasco, LPC-S
Recently, a friend posted a photo she had taken of a thunderstorm over the city where she lives. She had taken this photo from a boat, and while the thunderstorm was in plain view, she was not actually in it. I thought the photo was interesting, and it also got me thinking… (real) thunderstorms look (and feel) differently depending on if we are in them or if we are observing them from a distance. When we are in them, we can feel the rain and see/hear the lightning and thunder. When we are at a distance, we are aware of the storm but don’t experience it in the same way.
The same thing is true when we think about mental thunderstorms. Often we have our own thunderstorms going on in our mind. When we're in the middle of it all, we get drenched by the downpour of emotions and have to deal with the sparks, flashes, and booms of our thoughts and judgments. It’s like being in an actual thunderstorm, but our emotions, thoughts, and judgments are the rain, lightening, and thunder. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.
What if, like my friend, we got into a boat and decided to observe the thunderstorm from a distance? This is the process of what happens when we take a moment to breathe mindfully, unhook from our thoughts and emotions, and simply observe what’s happening for us. It’s like we have boarded a metaphorical mindfulness boat and have made the decision to simply observe the thunderstorm from afar rather than be in it. We are aware of our thoughts, judgments, and emotions, but we are not affected by them in the same way. We can think more clearly and calmly even though all of those thoughts, judgments, and emotions are still there. So, my challenge to you is to throw down your umbrellas, unhook from that thunderstorm of thoughts and emotions, and instead board your own mindfulness boat.
Written by Jondell Lafont, LPC-Intern
Regulating our emotions and expressing them in a healthy and effective way can be challenging. Many of us are not taught how to regulate our emotions and express them in a way that will still get our needs met. There are varying reasons why so many people struggle with healthy emotional expression. Two reasons that I see most commonly are: 1) Lack of Skill: You were never taught how to express your emotions in an effective way. Perhaps those around you did not model healthy and effective emotion regulation and expression, or maybe you only got your needs met when you were highly emotional (e.g. think about a child throwing a “temper tantrum” to get attention or to let his parent know how upset he is). 2) Emotion myths: Perhaps you were taught that certain emotions were “bad” or that showing emotions make you a weak person.
Regardless of why effective emotion regulation and expression are difficult, mindfulness can be a helpful tool to use when trying to learn healthy emotional expression. Emotions are complex responses, involving both our minds and bodies. Mindfulness can help us tune into the entire emotional response – the internal experience (e.g. changes in heart rate, temperature, muscle tension, breathing, action urges, etc.) and the external expression (e.g. facial expression, what we say, how we say it, action we take, etc.). We can use mindfulness to be more aware of what we are experiencing on the inside and how we are expressing it on the outside.
In order to regulate and express emotions in a healthy way, we have to first understand that emotions have a purpose. They are adaptive and give us important information about internal and external events. They help motivate action and communicate information to others around us. For example, anger motivates us to work towards change when there’s something we dislike about a situation. Fear and anxiety communicate that something is potentially dangerous to us, motivating us to leave the situation or protect ourselves. Love connects us to other people. Sadness lets us and others know that we need some support or comfort. Shame and guilt help keep members of society in line—they ensure that everyone does not just do whatever they want and hurt others. The goal here is to figure out what that emotion is communicating to us in order to effectively manage and express it.
We might first use mindfulness to describe what we are experiencing internally (those biological changes I mentioned earlier) and expressing externally (those facial and bodily changes I mentioned earlier) in order to name the emotion we are experiencing. For example, we might notice our face getting warmer, our hands starting to sweat and tighten into fist, our breathing becoming more rapid, our heart rate increasing, our teeth clenching, and our brow furrowing. We might also use mindfulness to notice that we have an urge to yell, slam doors, or throw something. Being mindful of this entire process, we can label the emotion as anger. When being mindful, we might notice that the emotion comes and goes like a wave on the beach –it will build up, peak, and then gradually subside. When we are mindful of this process, we are less likely to get hooked into unhelpful rumination.
Taking it a step further, we can allow ourselves to take a moment to breathe mindfully and check in with ourselves about what this emotion is communicating to us. We might notice that the anger was triggered by a family member yelling at us, which we interpreted as a verbal attack. We can then take a moment to decide how to communicate that anger to this family member in a way that won’t make the situation worse (i.e. more stressful or harder to manage). We might decide to tell her, “I’m feeling angry right now about you yelling at me. Let’s talk about this in an hour when we’ve both had a chance to cool down so we don’t say hurtful things we don’t mean.” However, if you hadn’t used mindfulness and had been unmindful of the emotional process, you might have lashed out by yelling back, name calling, and maybe even throwing something at her, all of which could potentially damage an important relationship. Being mindful allows us to understand why we are experiencing a certain emotion and to regain control over how we express that emotion.
While I used anger as an example, we can become mindful of all emotions. When we are mindful, we can decide to take a moment to check in with ourselves about what’s going on internally and externally. We can give ourselves a moment to decide what action(s) to take in order to express that emotion in a way that will get our needs met, help us maintain our self-respect, and not damage a relationship or make the situation more stressful.
Written by Jondell Lafont, LPC-Intern
In many ways our culture is repressed and fearful. Pain is viewed as something to be avoided at all costs. Some of those costs actually include inducing further pain in attempts to escape an imagined pain. And most of the pain we actually experience is of the imaginary kind.
For example, a woman stays home from attending a party because she is afraid that her ex-boyfriend will be there and she imagines that that would be too embarrassing and awkward to bear. So she ends up saying NO to her imagined pain, and stays home only to incur a whole night of turning possible embarrassing scenarios over and over in her head and obsessively checking her ex’s Facebook timeline for possible updates, which can only make things worse. Feeling isolated and pathetic, she neglects her friends and deprives herself of meeting new people.
The result of avoiding pain in this case seems to lead to even more pain and missed opportunities. So what happens if she were to go to the party and he actually is there? Might it be embarrassing and awkward? Perhaps. But at least now she’s experiencing feelings that are directly related to the event itself, rather than her thoughts about an event that hasn’t happened. In other words, life. When we say no to life, we create additional layers of pain and it can be hard to tell what is real or imagined.
Mindfulness puts us in touch with life as it exists in the present moment. Does that include embarrassment? Oh, yes. But do we have to avoid it? Sometimes this is ok, when it doesn’t incur further pain or doesn’t stop you from living your life. But when avoiding pain, real or imaginary, creates more pain, why would you? Instead, say YES to pain.
Let me explain. What I mean by saying YES, is not the same as agreeing with, approving of, or wanting it. I’m not saying you should convince yourself through positive thinking that pain is preferable; “Mmm . . . I love pain!”--that’s silly. It’s a way of opening up to what is already there, a way of making peace with the present moment. A sober and objective acknowledgement of the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that arise into the moment and pass in their own time. It’s an allowing of what’s there to be there, without adding judgment, aversion, or resistance to the equation.
Try this. Say no to yourself, either out loud or in your head, for 30 seconds. Take note of what you are feeling in your body. Now say yes for 30 seconds. What is that like? Are you not more open, relaxed, accepting, energized? Now think of the kinds of things you often say no to. See what it’s like to say yes to that. And when you feel the natural force of your learning history shouting, “NOOOO!” say yes to that. Say yes to your history, yes to your love handles, yes to rush hour traffic, yes to your late fees, yes to anxiety, yes to cancer, yes to rejection, yes to confusion and uncertainty, yes to your life.
Say yes, because saying no is to suffer unnecessarily.
Written by Jiovann Carrasco, LPC-S
Recently, a client of mine asked for guidance in her personal yoga practice. We’ll call her Brenda. Brenda was going through an emotionally-draining transition period and wanted help “escaping” from her mind and problems. She asked if I could write her a physically challenging and vigorous routine that she could practice at home in order to help get her mind off her current life situation. Her common predicament inspired me to write this piece, as many of us look towards yoga for help through difficult times. Like most human beings faced with emotional pain, Brenda’s first reaction was to try and find a way to avoid it. Unfortunately, although this method may be helpful in the short-term, it isn’t an effective long-term solution.
Really challenging or fast moving flow practices are great for letting you "get your mind off” the rest of your world or your problems, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing; short-term relief is sometimes what we need or all we can handle at the moment, especially in a public class where we may not feel safe exploring or acknowledging the reality of our emotions. Getting fully into our bodies has a calming effect; it tends to slow mental activity and allow us to concentrate on something other than our problems, even if just for the hour. Feeling our physical form heating up and burning with transformational discomfort can be a welcome experience when it serves as a distraction to discomfort we may be struggling with mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.
The problem with the distraction method is, we can only run from and ignore reality for so long; eventually we have to acknowledge and work through our problems in order for them to get better. "Escaping" only delays the process of confronting the pain so that we can heal and come out on the other side. At some point, changing our situation for the future requires that we are open and willing to accept and explore reality as it is in the present. When you are struggling with emotional pain or life transitions, take a look deep inside your heart. Decide if you are ready to face your inner emotional issues head on right now. If not, intentionally choose to give yourself more time and, by all means, keep practicing with flow, moving with and enjoying the breath. Be aware that you are doing this to temporarily soothe the pain, and this is okay for now. Maintaining honesty with yourself is important; it is up to you to balance challenge with compassion, rather than avoiding the challenge of change completely.
At some point repressing the pain will get tiresome. The cost will outweigh the benefits. When you feel brave and ready, it is time to begin holding poses for a very long time in your personal practice. Surrendering to a posture helps us to acknowledge our current reality so that we can deal with it. Holding asanas for a few minutes can help us make peace with "what is"; the focus of the practice becomes a meditation on our inner "aliveness" and helps us to accept reality and have a sense of calm about where we are right now (on the mat and in life), even if it is uncomfortable, foreign, or scary. When we fully embrace and understand the present we can deal with it effectively, and take actions towards creating the life we want.
I recommend the following postures for helping you work through transitional periods and emotionally-challenging times. Hold them for 2-5 minutes each. While you are in them, focus on the sensations and experiences that come up in the body and the mind. These may be physical, energetic, emotional, or mental "mind chatter". All of these experiences are important and need to be acknowledged and processed. They are begging for attention for a reason.
Yoga reminds us that the relationship we have with ourselves is the most important. This is the foundation for healthy and happy relationships with others and the universe. Meet yourself where you are and use modifications when your body asks for them. Practice self-compassion and use child's pose in between postures as needed. I hope these pointers are helpful. If you don’t know how to do the poses, I recommend taking a few private classes or finding a “beginners series” to join. As always, you are welcome to come explore yourself in the safety and support of my private yoga therapy sessions.
Change is rarely easily, most things worth doing are challenging, and personal growth requires an attitude of openness and acceptance as we trek into the unknown. Yoga provides an opportunity to explore these realities of life from the security of our mats. Be open, be brave, and most importantly, remember to breathe. Namaste.
Written by: Katy Zurawski, RYT, LPC-Intern
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Here you will find articles contributed by members of our team. We hope to provide helpful information here to inspire mindful living and general wellness. The information provided here is not a substitue for professional mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need to speak to a professional regarding your mental health, please make an appointment.