Tag Archive for Stress Reduction

Meditation Station: You Never Have to “Get Good At It”

Collect things from a walk

You’ve heard like a million different people talk about meditation. They call it a practice or getting on the cushion. Some people do moving meditations, some do it while jogging. People do it in groups and they do it outside, on beaches and overlooking cliffs. People do it on the subway, in the doctor’s waiting room, at the gym after yoga. Some have serious practices, others just do a focus on a candle, or their breath. Eyes are closed or soft focus and down. Some have hands in lap, some on knees. There are tons of formal traditions, and you can find one that works for you.

But maybe that’s the thing.

Maybe you’ve been looking, and none of them are for you so far. You’ve read about the benefits in stress reduction, you’ve seen friends morph into calmer people, lose their road rage and even eat with more peace. But when you’ve tried, it’s been too WHOAed out or massively uncomfortable, in fact, serving to HIGHLIGHT your own discomfort in your own body and just here, on Earth. Or when you’ve gone to groups to get instruction, you feel a “joining” pressure or a keen awareness of how bad you are at it. Or you think you don’t even have the right goddamn outfit for it. Yet again and again, something tells you there’s an important benefit to be had. Perhaps a thousand benefits.

But one thing is that you just never have to be good at it. It’s an entirely private situation. Even in a room on the Lower East Side of Manhattan when I went to a group and cried the entire time because I was such a wreck, no one gave a shit. People are busy with their own practice, finding their own present moment and your experience is all yours. Some days the time will fly by and others it will feel like fucking torture and your back will ache and your brain won’t settle and all will be desperate and sorrowful. That’s just how shit goes. The thing is, you’re only in this life once, and meditation is your practice at showing up for it. So the next time life hands you utter joy or benevolence or beauty, you can sit still for it, take it in. You can be here with people before you get that call that they aren’t here anymore. You can be here, in your skin for all the things the body does. You can have more of your life and less of your fantasy doom. That’s what worry is. It’s living through all the fictional devastations that aren’t really happening and often don’t. But we worry, we focus on them, and live through in a way anyhow, and miss the actual moments we could be living. You’ve heard all of this. And here’s the thing. No one meditates to be become a good meditator. There are no ribbons. No grand prize. There’s just you.

So without claiming to be an expert or a meditation teacher, without claiming a tradition or a particular school, I thought I’d share some of the different things that have helped me to start when I lose my way, which is often, and the reasons vary from convincing myself I have no time to convincing myself I have no outfit either. But I do. I have the time. Any outfit will do. I can do it anyplace and it’s free so I can afford it.


I try to begin the day by sitting quietly for ten minutes alone or with someone else. If I’ve been off my game, I start with one minute. Just One. Little. Collection. Of. 60. Seconds. I do it before I do anything else. Before I brush my teeth or look at my work email or eat breakfast. I just go sit. I made a place in my house for this. I sit facing a little box I covered with fabric and on that box sits a collection of things that remind me I am connected to a larger world. I have turkey feathers from walks, gemstones from deep in the ground, old letters from friends and family, photographs, and a box full of little slips of papers I wrote my nagging troubles on. I sit and I think about my continues blessings and I thank something somewhere for them, and then I think of nagging troubles and I write them on paper and put them in the box. I have been writing some things on those papers for years. Because there is no timeline for healing from things or getting past pain or irritation. Do not let people outside yourself set a timeline for your emotions. Do not listen to the voice that tells you “I should be over this by now.” You’re not over it. It takes how long it takes. Just write it down. Put it in the box.

I set the timer on your my phone for 1-10 minutes. I sit quietly and  on a cushion, but you can sit in a chair or even lie down. Most people don’t recommend the lying down because you can fall asleep, but shit, I’ve nodded off sitting up, to so I say whatever gets you there, do that. When I sit, I imagine a red string from my sit bones up through the tip of my hairline holding me steady. I think of the dignity on my body that I am grateful still functions mostly without pain. I let rigidity go. I Relax. I just breathe. I think about the things that happened to me the previous day, collect those images and wrap them up. I mean I literally imagine collecting them and wrapping them in a parcel. I put them down and name them “the past”. Now I think about the million things I have to do today and my worries about tomorrow and next week and when I get old and when the dog dies and I wrap those up. I put them down in their parcel and label them “the future”. Then I am in the present. I try to focus on my breath, (you can also use a candle, a photograph, a drawing, a divination or medicine card, or any point of your choosing). When my mind begins to wander, which is almost immediate and very often, I notice its path, and gently return it to my point of focus. I very slowly breathe into all the parts of my body starting at the top of my head. I move down to my neck and bring breath and attention to it. My shoulders. Ribs. My arms and elbows and fingers. I breathe into my back and my liver, my kidneys, my gut and my butt. I breathe into my thighs and knees and shins and ankles. Finally, I get to my feet and my toes. If at some point I have an itch, which I always do, I try to just notice it and let it pass. It always does. The same with aches: I breathe into them and watch them pass. By the time I finish this process I will have spent at least one and maybe ten minutes or more with myself quietly. Sometimes I use this time to set an intention for the day. Maybe for my work or my relationship. I also might send out love or wishes for people suffering, sick or with loved ones passing.

Sometimes if I feel particularly edgy, I pick a word guide either from a tarot card or this list I keep. Having a solid starting place can help me to find the calm and focus for my breath. You can use these words as anchoring focus for any day you choose.

Imagination                                        Exhilaration                                         Faith

Healing                                               Power                                                 Grace

Passion                                               Joy                                                     Security

Intention                                             Thrill                                                  Acceptance

Vibrancy                                              Authenticity                                        Sympathy

Creativity                                             Fascination                                         Humility

Affection                                              Celebration                                         Confidence

Remorse                                              Gratitude                                            Relaxation

Wisdom                                               Wonder                                               Empathy

Risk                                                     Happiness                                          Inspiration

Clarity                                                  Kindness                                            Delight

Loneliness                                            Confusion                                            Humor

Abundance                                           Curiosity                                              Exploration

Grief                                                    Worry                                                  Rapture

Adventure                                            Forgiveness                                         Openness

Success                                               Panic                                                   Honesty

Fear                                                    Sensuality                                            Integrity

Trust                                                   Intimacy                                              Doubt

Release                                               Dread                                                  Appreciation

Anger                                                  Warmth                                               Renewal


I also really like to listen to recorded guided sits with teachers who have done this a long time. Having someone else keep time and help me to focus is a real gift. You can find all kinds of teachers on the interwebs. I have my favorites and you will find yours. I am not going to suggest any here because I bet your own inquiries will lead you to your own place better than I could.

I hope you try it.
And again.
And then again.

Stressed out at Inflammation Station : Part 1

Gus Seinberg: Gay, Jewish Dog.

One of the first things I ever taught Gus Seinberg how to do was spoon. Even when he was a puppy and I toted him around San Francisco in a bike bag, whiling away the hours on the back patio of The Bearded Lady Truckstop Cafe in a vintage slip with platform combat boots, it was never me that invested in him learning how to be a good dog. I’d take his puffy tiny body home and snuggle his back against me and smell the crown of his puppy head whispering to him all the things we’d do together, me and him. Sometimes he’d turn towards me and put his big floppy paws on my chest and just stare at me, his eyeliner and brown eyes pleading for language. We’d nap while I could have been doing something productive: working on a book, printing for a photography show, EXERCISING. But instead I’d watch the butts in the ashtray shift and morph into new heights and stare out the window of the studio apartment waiting for my girlfriend to come teach Gus something useful. Sit. Stay. Back Seat. Off.

This Cafe was Magical

Everything helpful he knows, he learned from her. I really only taught him how to spoon. To this day, if I lie down on any surface he can get to and I toss my arms out perpendicular to my body, he’ll heave his 50 lb body into me, back first, and lie his long face on the pillow by me. It’s one of my favorite things.

But now he’s a big dude and he has paws that don’t flop and they have big black talons on the ends of them. He still turns over and digs his feet into me and sometimes the nails get me. Then I have a weird welt across me, like a protester all risen up against the man, red faced and furious.

That’s inflammation. Not to state the obvious. But when did inflammation get so confusing? Who are these doctors who keep talking about inflammation and how it’s the root of all medical problems? Is my internal landscape a mighty welt? Is the inflammation about organs or tissues os the blood? Will it make me feel bad? Am I literally SWOLLEN? I have gotten the answer to this question through entire books and STILL felt confused. So let’s get super basic.

Inflammation leads to too much time at the hospital.

The first thing is that inflammation has a purpose. When the body is injured, in pain, stressed out or otherwise flummoxed, it responds to the injury and it’s actually trying to heal itself. Whether you’ve been cut or burned or stung or stabbed or whatever, the body has a bunch of cells that tell it something bad has happened. Your brain gets the pain message but the rest of you is busy as well. The site of the injury gets the message to increase blood flow to the injury and that happens by the blood vessels opening up to let more nutrients reach the injury. That’s why the site gets red and hot and puffy. The blood brings plasma and leukocytes, or white blood cells,  to get to work immediately in the healing process. So as all these responses from your immune system take place, not only do they act to help you by giving you a good dose of pain to let you know exactly what the injured piece of your body is capable of and NOT capable of (like, no don’t turn it THAT way!), but under all the red puffy action, there’s clotting and cleaning and repair going on.

So if inflammation is about healing, why all the evil chatter about it being the root of every major disease in the western world? Well, inflammation is supposed to just do its job and get on with it, as the British say. It’s an emergency system.

What does that have to do with being stressed out?
This is stressing me out.

Fight or Flight

Look, our minds and bodies arrived with convenient alarm systems to keep us safe from harm. Until just about 10,000 years ago, we Homo sapiens spent our days simply surviving just to get to the next one. We gathered berries, and whittled wood into sharp points. We tested mushrooms with a high cost of trial and error, stalked game, and sought out water sources. We found shelter and warmth, companionship. At the same time, of course, creatures sought us as their dinner as well, and upon sight of, let’s say, a mountain lion staring us down, our bodies would sound the sirens loud and focused, giving us two famous choices: Fight or Flight.

In this moment, the phenomenal body does some serious acrobatics in its efforts to keep us alive. Our hypothalamus, a powerful gland sitting pretty at the base of our brains, sends in the troops of defense. Using a team of nerves and hormones, these players poke our adrenal glands, just chilling out in a catnap above our kidneys, telling them to get the hell up and deliver us a wallop of hormones featuring the big stars: adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline’s job is to increase our heart rates, and as it does so, elevate our blood pressure and catapult our energy supplies into survival levels. Cortisol, the big cheese of stress hormones, is quite busy with its own tasks, increasing sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, to making extra energy available for thinking in lightning speed fashion (the brain functions solely on the power of glucose). It also increases the availability of substances that repair the body’s tissues, on alert for possible injury.

And if that wasn’t enough, cortisol also acts as a master editor, slicing out nonessential functions that would slow us in a fight-or-flight situation. For instance, it demotes immune system responses and stops paying attention to the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This heightened state is not concerned with your biological clock, your desire for dinner, or for crying out loud, your height.

But what happens to this system when the threat never passes?

The Heart

Modern life in our Western culture doesn’t present us with quite as many mountain lion threats or whittling opportunities as it used to. What it does present us with are continuously stressful situations of the 21st century. Will we lose the home we spent our entire lives working for? Can we retain our job toiling in a cube for 60 hours a week to make endless deadlines? Will our partners stay with us and give us the love we need when they barely remember what we look like? Remaining constantly on edge keeps us in a consistent state that was designed to last for only moments, and our systems begin to break down under the demands of our constant requests for extra troops in the fight. In a healthy body, the body’s stress response system is supposed to be self-regulating. Once we escape from the mountain lion, or the thief in the alley, or the car swerving out in front of us, our levels should return to their happy places, decreasing hormone levels, blood pressure, and adrenaline once the threat to our body has passed. At this point, our digestive system once again begins its digesting (not to mention its manufacturing of serotonin), our reproductive systems return to watching over our abilities to conceive and procreate, and our growth hormones relax into a healthy aging process.

The problem with stress in our lives today is that our minds tell our bodies that we are under constant assault. These systems stay on alert, breeding chronic physical, psychological, and emotional crises that feed each other and reinforce problems. Overloading our bodies with exposure to cortisol and its other stress hormone cronies disrupts almost all of our body’s functions. Constant inflammation. This puts us at increased risk of numerous health problems, including, and unfortunately not limited to:

  • Heart disease
  • Insomnia
  • Digestive tract ailments
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Memory impairment
  • Skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis.

So what are we supposed to do? Good question. Part 2 of the series will cover some stress reduction tips. Until then, just continue appreciating your dog. Especially if he’s as cute as Gus.


Calling in the Cavalry: Holistic Stress Reduction for Everyone

Does your head feel like it’s levitating off your neck some days?
Are your dreams being invaded by stress and anxiety?
Appetite doing insane dips and rolls?
Trouble sleeping?
Are you getting every winter bug that goes around the neighborhood?
Bickering with your partner over every tiny thing?

Pretty horses for you to ride in on.

Great news: You don’t have to live like this. You can live your life and still sleep, eat, and relate in healthy ways.

In this workshop we’ll talk about the situations that set us off, look at what triggers are really made of, and add in some easy tools for immediate relief. We’ll learn to identify these triggers and neutralize them. From the general to the specific, this workshop is designed as a STARTING point to help your true self back into your moment to moment life rather than chasing a carrot down an impossible list of Things To Do.

In addition to these short term methods of reducing stress, we’ll also look at long term choices we can make to arrive in life the way it really is, even in its difficulties, and show up to live it.

This workshop is a simple By Donation workshop, as stress is one of the most widespread ailments attacking the health of people today. Just give what you can at the door. However, you MUST REGISTER in advance, as the space is cozy and therefor limited.

Register by writing to coachseinberg@gmail.com