Downward Face

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Use restorative facial yoga to release stress and tension and restore your youthful glow.

Whether we smile or frown, laugh or scowl, approach our lives with wide-eyed wonderment, or bitter tears, our faces are almost always active. Day in and day out, our facial expressions can have a powerful effect on our lives. It doesn’t matter if we’re communicating feelings such as happiness or anger, reacting to the facial expressions of others, or responding to stimuli in our environment, our face is a gateway for emotional energy. With a relaxation practice that directs our attention toward this part of our body we can experience relief from the demands of life and restore a sense of peace and well-being that will be felt on the inside – and be visible on the outside.

The stress reaction of muscular tension in the face and its consequences is not unlike the stress reaction in other parts of the body. A primitive and natural response to danger, fear triggers the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system modifying our blood chemistry, affecting distribution of blood, and potentially saving us from harm’s way. This life saving function is rarely needed in the modern world because its purpose is to help us during actual physical threats in the wild. We frequently use fear unintentionally to combat psychological attacks instead of physical ones. Evidently, it is difficult for our body/nervous system to make out the difference between a predatory beast and a job interview, or other psychological stressor.

The first steps in letting go of tension are to accept that there is nothing to fear and that it’s more helpful for us to be calm in any given situation. This might be easy in theory, but changing a primitive response designed to keep us alive requires a diligent practice in awareness. Just remember — the practice of reducing tension is cumulative and builds on itself to gently coax our nervous system into more frequent states of safety and homeostasis, or balance.

Studies show that we tend to wait until we are suffering from the effects of stress before we take action. The practices of Downward Face (see below) are recommended not only for recuperating from the adverse effects of stress, they can also serve as preventative medicine by helping to better manage the unconscious emotional reactions that create tension in the first place. By repeatedly catching ourselves when the stress response is activated in the face, we begin to accept that it’s not always necessary to be afraid of something that only threatens us psychologically. Additionally, knowing that we have the power to choose healthy responses to life’s challenges could even inspire us to use our facial muscles to smile more often, which research has shown can have a positive influence on others and improve our experience of life.

Regardless of how you feel right now, try taking a few minutes to practice Downward Face. Mindfully follow these simple steps and remind yourself that awareness without judgment is key.

The first part of the practice delivers more blood flow into your face to stimulate the muscles. The second part of the practice focuses on relaxing the face through the use of focused attention.

Practice Downward Face: Restorative Facial Yoga

Sit or lie down in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and take a long deep breath.

While you take three more slow, deep breaths, use the tip of your tongue to massage the inside of your mouth and push the skin outward all the way around in front of your teeth, behind your cheeks, and even along roof of your mouth. Include the soft tissue in the massage below your tongue and behind your front teeth, as well. After your third breath, simply relax the face and tongue and notice what you feel.

As you continue to consciously take slow, deep breaths, open your mouth and eyes as wide as possible. Keeping your eyes stretched wide open, very slowly lower and raise just your eyelids a few times.

Let the breath settle, but continue to be aware of it and close your eyes again. Use your fingertips to softly and lightly tap all over your face and forehead repeatedly, like a spider scampering over your skin.

Keeping your eyes closed, rest your awareness at the center of the top of your head. Be aware of your breath, allowing it to move naturally and with ease.

At a snail’s pace, move your attention down the front of your face, beginning at the forehead and temples, then to the middle of the forehead over the eyebrows, then finally rest your awareness at the third eye between your eyebrows. Linger there for three to five breaths with the intention for your face to be passive, neutral, and inactive.

Continue to move your attention around the eye sockets, repeating the suggestion silently in your mind for your face to be passive, neutral, and inactive, while relaxing the eye muscles.

Slowly move your awareness around your nose and cheek muscles, relaxing the jaw, tongue, and top and bottom of your lips, inside and out, still maintaining the attitude of being passive, neutral, and inactive.

Take your time, as you move your awareness around the chin, dropping down to the throat, allowing it to be passive, neutral and inactive.

Conclude your practice with a nice long, comfortable breath and notice how relaxed your face feels. Turn your attention to the feeling in the rest of the body. Enjoy the experience of simply being.

Practice the restorative yoga of Downward Face as often as you’d like to release the habitual tension that builds up in your face to promote balance, peace, and harmony. You might find yourself frowning less and smiling more.

Photo: David Young-Wolfe (originally published in LA Yoga Magazine

John Sahakian C.Ht., ERYT is a clinical hypnotherapist who conducts workshops on stress management. He is the creator of The 3-Minute Cure and the founder of the Clinic for Integrative Mindfulness and Stress Reduction in West Los Angeles. He is also known to teach some yoga, and he finds a sense of balance and connection to the breath and nature while surfing. threecircleflow.com; johnsahakian.com.
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10 Steps For Sleeping Soundly

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Black dog bodhi & John

Do you wake up in the middle of the night?

It is believed that our sleep patterns are created when we are infants, but it might be difficult for you to go back in time to establish new patterns. Instead, we can influence today’s sleep cycle by actively managing our approach to rest and eventually undesired patterns may begin to change. Sleep preparation is a mindful technique for reducing the frequency of restlessness between the sheets.

Keep in mind that our sleep cycles can be affected by many variables, including but not limited to age, diet, stress levels, lifestyle and general health. You may already know, as we grow older it is very normal to wake up two or three times a night. If we consider this seriously and add stress to the mix or a stimulant (even some medications), naturally our sleep interruption scenario may be more pronounced. Also consider that the nervous system can change over time and metabolize what we put into our bodies differently. For example, although you may have been a coffee drinker for years, with body chemistry changes the effects of caffeine can become delayed, causing us to experience restlessness hours following our cherished cup of java.

Regardless of the cause(s) of sleep interruption, it is important to not worry about how you’ve been sleeping, as the stress of worry doesn’t help. I encourage you to work with your body and mind as a system whose main objective is to feel good. Acknowledging that your body wants to feel good and pointing your attention toward healthy practices that support this objective lets your body and mind system know it is safe and there’s no reason for sleep to be interrupted.

1. At a very low volume, play steady rain, or white noise. Avoid intermittent rain forest sounds, as sound variations can be disturbing.
2. Make sure there are no sharp lights that are visible from your bed.
3. Do not use the iPad, computer, or iPhone at least thirty minutes before sleep.
4. Do not watch the news, action or violent television before sleep and avoid loud or agitating conversation.
5. Have a glass of red wine or a small cup of herbal tea one to two hours before sleep.
6. Take a warm bath or shower.
7. Wear soft clothing, specifically for sleeping and treat yourself to high thread count sheets.
8. To sooth the nervous system before bed even more, place a large folded blanket near a wall and with your rear pressed up close to the base board, put your legs up the wall. Once positioned, take ten long, slow comfortable breaths extending the exhale naturally without force through your nose or mouth. Remain with your legs up the wall for five to ten minutes or until you feel very relaxed. When bringing the legs down lie in fetal position for couple of long breaths and repeat to yourself, “It is time to sleep soundly.” If you are physically challenged and cannot do number eight, simply sit and say a prayer for your family and loved ones or silently acknowledge everything in your life that you are thankful for. Gratitude has a soothing effect.
9. In bed, lights out, eyes closed, say to yourself, “I am safe. I don’t have to be anywhere or do anything. It’s my time to rest.”
10. Draw seven long, slow and comfortable breaths. For each breath visualize a body part and allow that body part to give into gravity a little more and let go. Start with a relaxing breath for your face. One breath for your right leg and one for the left. One breath for your right arm and one for the left. One breath for your torso and spine and one breath for your head.

It is a good idea to place a note pad by your bed and a small glass of water. Many times the sub-conscious mind will wake us up, simply because there is a thought or idea that we need to become conscious of. Write down the thought or idea, take a drink of water and go back to sleep, taking a few breaths to settle again, not forgetting to allow the body to give into gravity. If you awaken and there’s not a thought or idea in your mind, repeat step number ten and enjoy the fact that in the middle of the night you don’t have to be anywhere or do anything. It’s your time to rest.

Please visit: http://www.threecircleflow.com

With love,

John Sahakian C.Ht.

Breathe Into A Peaceful Day

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gandhi

Just as a good night’s sleep begins by using our breath to let go, a peaceful day begins in humility. 

As human beings our lives are supported by the earth.   The term “humility” comes from the Latin word “humilis”, and is translated not only as humble, but also as “low”, or “from the earth.”  It is important to acknowledge that each day gives us an opportunity to grow and branch out like a deeply rooted tree expressing ourselves and being of service to others, just as a tree might bare fruit or offer shade for rest. 

When we awaken each morning consciously aware of our potential to expand creatively as a result of our rootedness, in our job, with our family, or simply within our experience of those we may not even know we set the stage for a feeling of peace inside that will draw peace toward us like a magnet.  How we feel inside will always be reflected by what we experience outside.  To accept this idea we must be humble.

Tomorrow morning, whether you use an alarm clock or not, when your eyes open, TAKE PAUSE.  As difficult as it might seem, no matter what you think and feel you must rush to do, take a moment and close your eyes again. 

Notice your physical and mental desire to jump out of bed, especially if you’re used to rushing to the coffee pot.  Without judgement, experience your five senses, noticing the smell, light flickering through your eye lids, the taste in your mouth, sounds you might hear from others in the house or outside, and finally how your body feels lying in bed, the texture of the sheets against your skin.  This practice will help set a tone of presence for the day.

Place your right palm on your belly button and your left palm on your chest.  Take a moment to acknowledge that today is a gift, filled with opportunities to breathe from your belly and to live from your heart.  With this in mind take three long and slow complete breaths through your nose filling your hands.  Allow yourself to savor each breath all the way in and all the way out. 

As you arrive at the top of your last inhale — PAUSE — then sigh it out through your mouth.  Take one more moment to notice how balanced you feel, relaxed, yet ready to move into the rhythms of your day. 

Remember, it’s not what life throws at us; it’s how we respond that determines how we feel. 

With Love & Gratitude,

Next blog:  Breathe Into an Important Event

(Please post your comments in support of living with response-ability)

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