Be a Role Model in Challenging Times

Lake Superior, Minnesota (Photo by Gina M. Gafford)

Everyone is experiencing more psychological stress because of the Coronavirus. While shopping, my friend said she could see the stress in people’s eyes. This past week, I felt stress and frustration several times. I had to be strict and tell myself to “be a calm-ass!” I reminded myself that situations and feelings are temporary.

When I feel frustrated, it helps to look at the big picture of life. I need to ask myself, “What am I afraid of?” Frustration is another form of anger, and anger is another form of fear. Right now, there’s a lot of uncertainty and fear about the future. We all need to take one day at a time.

Along with my frustration, I’ve had a careless attitude. The issues around the Coronavirus doesn’t help (and it’s not an excuse to be rude or unkind). I must not let myself go down that path. I must keep my integrity and not give up on what’s important in life – like being kind, helping people, and making the world a better place.

Several things help me to feel more balanced and less frustrated, like increasing my self-care, be more mindful (do more yoga and meditation), and spend time in nature. I need to remind myself to be gentle with myself and others. We live in a unique and challenging time, and we need to be role models for others.

Namaste, world.

Audio Blog Post Reading of “The Magic of OM” (7 Minutes)

The Magic of OM (March 21, 2016)

Om (or Aum) is a sacred sound and symbol. Om is the universal sound, the first sound of creation. In the yoga sutras by B.K.S Iyengar (1993), “Aum is called Pranava, which stands for the praise of the divine and fulfillment of divinity.” Iyengar continues to say, “Sound is vibration, which as modern science tells us, is the source of all creation. God is beyond vibration, but vibration, being the subtlest of His creation, is the nearest we can get to Him in the physical world. So we take it as His symbol.”

I have been using Om in my pranayama practice. Yogic breathing is called pranayama in Sanskrit. Brown et al., (2005) defines pranayama as “meaning both control of energy and expansion of energy” (p. 189). In other words, Brown says that the breath is energy, and we have control over it. Brown (2005) states, prana is defined as breath or life force. According to Iyengar (1996), “pranayama by nature has three components: inhalation, exhalation, and retention. They are carefully learned by elongating the breath and prolonging the time of retention according to the elasticity of the torso, the length and depth of breath, and the precision of movements” (p. 33). Iyengar’s point is to learn to hold the breath for longer periods of time to increase the volume of oxygen in the body.

Breath links the body and mind. Yogic breathing techniques can be used to balance the autonomic nervous system and have a positive effect on stress-related disorders. When individuals are under stress, they restrict their breathing and decrease the amount of oxygen coming into their bodies (Wilkinson, 2002). Yogic breathing techniques increase the volume of oxygen in the lungs and help the body to relax and the mind to focus.

When I chant Om, I repeat it three times with a long expiration. Chanting Om has complex effects on the brain; especially in the Wernicke’s area and the thalamus (Brown, 2005). According to Brown et al., (2005), “Even just mentally chanting Om showed decreased metabolism, decreased heart rate, and increased peripheral vascular resistance in seven experienced yogic meditators” (p. 195). Chanting Om also increases the synchronicity of particular biorhythms in the brain (Zope, 2013). D’Antoni et al. (1995) state that “mantra production frequently employs the phonemes, m, and n, which are thought to evoke pleasant associations and feelings of release” (p. 309). The chant Om has the phoneme m in it.

Om is magical. I have experienced its effects on my mind and body. I am an emotional person, and sometimes I have a difficult time controlling my emotions. According to The Art of Living Foundation (http://www.artofliving.org), “rather than allowing the emotions to alter the breath (and cause physiological changes which may prove unhealthy), one can skillfully use the breath to transform one’s emotional state.” When someone is angry, the breath is short and quick. And when someone is sad or upset, the breath is long and deep. Om can be used to control the breath and balance the emotions.

I had a little health scare this past month. I found a few pink, scaly spots on my face. I was worried that I might have skin cancer. So, last week I went to the dermatologist. I made a plan that I would silently use the Om while I sat in the office, and during the consultation and treatment. I was surprised how chanting Om helped me to be calm and feel centered. I did not get upset, and my heart rhythm was strong.

I found out that I do not have skin cancer. I have Actinic Keratoses. It’s a common skin disorder from years of sun exposure. Actinic Keratoses is considered precancerous. If left untreated, Actinic Keratoses may turn into cancer. I am treating my spots (with liquid nitrogen), so hopefully, I will not get skin cancer.

I am counting on the magic of Om to balance the biorhythms in my brain and in my heart. I have to admit; I was scared that I was going to die from skin cancer. Deep breathing and prayer helped me connect with God and the universe. Life can be scary, so we need to learn to breathe through it.

Namaste, world.

References

Brown, R.P., & Gerbarg, P.L., (2005). Sudarshan kriya yogic breathing in the treatment of  stress, anxiety, and depression: Part I – Neurophysiologic model. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 11(1), 189-201.

Brown, R.P., & Gerbarg, P.L., (2005). Sudarshan kriya yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression: Part II – Clinical applications and guidelines. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 11(4), 711-717.

D’Antoni, M., Harvey, P., & Fried, M. (1995). Alternative medicine: Does it play a role in the management of voice disorders. Journal of Voice, 9(3), 308-311.

Iyengar, B.K.S. (1966). Light on yoga. New York, NY: Schocken Books, Inc.

Iyengar, B.K.S. (1993). Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Hammersmith, London: HarperCollins Publishers.

The Art of Living Foundation (http://www.artofliving.org)

Wilkinson, L., Buboltz, W. C., & Young, T. (2002). Breathing techniques to promote client relaxation and tension reduction. Journal of Clinical Activities, Assignments & Handouts in Psychotherapy Practice, 2(1), 1-14.

Zope, S.A., & Zope, R.A., (2013). Sudarshan kriya yoga: Breathing for health. International Journal of Yoga, 6(1), 4-10.

Going Solo

Gina camping with her dog, Liam

This past weekend, I went solo camping with my dog, Liam. I spent two nights alone in a private, hike-in site. One day, I spent some time with a good friend who lives close to the campground. We went kayaking and ate around the campfire.

Several years ago, I did solo camping. It can be kind of scary sleeping alone in the wilderness. I calm my mind by telling myself that I am safe. I also do things that I enjoy like, reading, building a campfire, or meditating. Since I am a woman, I carry pepper spray too.

Going solo camping has helped me face my fears, encouraged me to be self-reliant, expanded my appreciation of beauty and simplicity, and gave me the confidence to be myself.

Namaste, world.

The Breath of Life

I am paying more attention to my breath now that I have to wear a mask for work. Masks are mandatory in Minnesota. I normally breathe deeply, so it’s difficult to breathe when I wear a mask. Many times, when I am talking (with a mask on), I get out of breath. Not good.

It’s important to breathe through your nose only (no mouth breathing – unless you have a cold). As a yoga teacher, I know how beneficial it is to breathe through the nose. The nose will warm the air, cycle the air through the labyrinth nasal cavities, and clean the air. The nose is made specifically for breathing.

Everyone must breathe through their nose – even when sleeping and exercising. Mouth breathing can cause anxiety and respiratory problems. Also, every day take a few deep breaths – especially if you have to wear a mask.

Here is a breathing technique that will help you take deep breaths:

  • Slowly breathe in and out of your nose.
  • Take a very deep breath (through your nose), and hold your breath for 5 seconds, then slowly exhale.
  • Then take 3 normal breaths (in and out through your nose).
  • Repeat the cycle a few times.

I recommend the book, “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art,” by James Nestor. I just listened to Nestor on a podcast. It’s fascinating to hear about his research on the breath. I ordered the book.

Be well, friends.

Namaste, world.

Emergency Backpack

**This blog is about spirituality and wellness. Part of prevention and wellness is taking care of yourself and your family during all situations in life. Therefore, I think it’s beneficial to post some blog posts about being prepared.**

An emergency backpack is essential! There are many uses for it. For example, you can grab it if there’s a tornado, an earthquake, or some other natural disaster. Or you can keep it in your car for emergencies. Keep the pack as light as possible, so you can easily bring it anywhere. Children need to have backpacks too.

Here’s more information for children’s bags: https://www.happypreppers.com/kidsbugoutbag.html

Here are some beneficial tips:

1. Practice with your emergency backpack. Take it camping or even to a hotel. You will find out very quickly what you’re missing. Also, practice using your equipment (tent, stove, water filter, etc.).

2. Make sure each adult bag has a complete set of items. Do not put food in one bag and equipment in another bag.

3. Make sure your bag isn’t too heavy. Walk around with your bag – take it with you on a hike.

4. Get a backpack rain cover.

5. Remember to pack your medications and vitamins.

6. Place plastic wrap over the opening of liquid bottles.

7. Pack enough food for at least three days (72 hours). MRE’s are lightweight and easy to pack.

8. Make sure to pack three pairs of wool socks.

9. Switch out clothing to fit your current season. Never wear cotton clothing in cold or wet weather.

9. Remember to create a plan for pets.

10. Hide cash (small bills) in your emergency bag.

See a full emergency kit/backpack list at https://theprepared.com/bug-out-bags/guides/bug-out-bag-list/ and at https://www.google.com/amp/s/bugoutbagacademy.com/free-bug-out-bag-list/amp/

A couple of months ago, I created my emergency backpack. I keep it in my car. It’s amazing how many times that I needed to go into my bag for simple things like, one time, I forgot my water bottle, so I grabbed my canteen water bottle from my emergency bag. Or one time I needed a sweatshirt, so I got it from my bag. A few times, I took out cash from my bag (and then replaced it).

Good luck to you as you prepare your backpack. I love knowing that I have everything that I need in one bag.

Namaste, world.

Equanimity in Changing Times

“With equanimity, you can deal with situations with calm and reason while keeping your inner happiness.” – The Dalai Lama

What is the quality of your mind lately? Do you feel anxious or scared? Do you feel calm and centered? How can you create equanimity in changing times?

According to the dictionary, equanimity is mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.

Be careful of things that disturb your equanimity. Do you feel distracted and anxious when you watch the news? Are you on your phone or computer too long? Remember, the main purpose of your phone, computer, and television is to keep you “hooked.”

Below are some equanimity key points, by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., “Buddha’s Brain: The practical neuroscience of happiness, love, and wisdom:”

  • Equanimity means not reacting to your reactions, whatever they are.
  • Equanimity creates a buffer around the feeling tones of experiences so that you do not react to them with craving. Equanimity is like a circuit breaker that blocks the normal sequence in the mind that moves from feeling tone to craving to clinging to suffering.
  • Equanimity is not coldness, indifference, or apathy. You are present in the world but not upset by it. The spaciousness of equanimity is great support for compassion, kindness, and joy at the happiness of others.
  • In daily life and meditation, deepen your equanimity by becoming increasingly mindful of the feeling tones of experience and increasingly disenchanted with them. They come, and they go, and they’re not worth chasing or resisting.
  • Imagine the contents of your mind coming and going in a vast open space of awareness, like shooting stars. The feeling tones of experience are just more contents moving through this space. Boundless space surrounds them – dwarfing them, untroubled by them, unaffected by their passing.

“Trust in awareness, in being awake, rather than in transient and unstable conditions.” – Ajahn Sumedho

Namaste, world.

I Stand Up for Human Rights

I stand up for human rights. I think face masks should be optional for people – not mandatory. I do not trust the government and their hidden agendas.

If face masks are mandatory (as they are in Minnesota), then why are babies and small children exempt? Why? Because it’s inhumane. Face masks are cruel and dangerous. So, why are people accepting this rule?

Face masks are dangerous:

https://nypost.com/2020/05/06/two-boys-drop-dead-in-china-while-wearing-masks-during-gym-class/

https://medium.com/theusareviewer/the-potential-dangers-of-wearing-a-face-mask-51b9b86980a

I stand up for human rights. Every human being needs to breathe normally. Masks make breathing difficult. “I can’t breathe.”

I stand up for human rights. I am an advocate of peace, unity, equality, dignity, justice, and freedom.

I stand up for human rights. Every human being is born free. The government wants to take our freedom away (wants to kneel on our necks).

I stand up for human rights. I love you, my brothers and sisters. Please stand up for human rights. Let no mask silence you.

Namaste, world.

2020 Vision

Many spiritual leaders say 2020 is the year of spiritual awakening. Soon the veil will be lifted, and many people will become awake to the truth of our human existence. Now it is up to us to increase our love energy and see with 2020 vision.

Things to be aware of:

  • The birds are still chirping, and the squirrels are still climbing trees. We can look to nature for balancing and grounding.
  • During this awakening, we must go within. Mediation and gratitude is the secret recipe for inner stability and generating positive energy.
  • We need to follow our hearts and do what is right. If something is not right, speak up.
  • Let your intuition guide you every day.
  • COVID-19 will help us awaken.
  • As eternal beings, we are here to be part of this great awakening.
  • Remember that there are lightworkers in our political system. They are working hard to bring love and wisdom to our leaders.
  • Be mindful of your thoughts and feelings.
  • Remember, transformation can be a bumpy road.
  • Stay in the present moment.
  • Focus on what you want in life.

Gratitude Meditation

Sit in a comfortable position for meditation. Close your eyes. Become aware of your breath. Take a few deep breaths to center yourself. After you feel centered, find a spot to focus on your breath for a few minutes. You can feel your breath at the tip of your nose, inside your nose, in your chest, or abdomen. After you take the time to feel your breath, you can think about what you are grateful for in your life. Once you have thought of something, take a deep breath. Then exhale through your mouth (creating wind), and release your thought/intention (mentally) as you breathe out into the air. Set three gratitude intentions and then return to your breathing meditation.

A few ideas to express gratitude: You can thank God or the Universe for your life. You can express gratitude for your health. Be thankful for your family. Etc.

Namaste, world.

Jennifer’s Poem

Jennifer's Poem (May 2020)

Dear Jennifer, 
I am here. 
The proof is in my tear. 
You are walking Heaven's mile, 
as I miss your joyful smile. 
I will follow your ways. 
Let your spirit shine rays. 
Friends forever we will be. 
I remember you - please remember me. 
I am here. 
Jennifer, dear. 

- Gina M. Gafford 

Almost a week ago, I was sleeping in a tent at Gooseberry Falls State Park, Minnesota. It was dark outside, and the wind was blowing into the tent. I don’t know if it was windy or if I was dreaming. Then, through a rush of wind, I heard someone say, “I am here.” Right away, my mind went to my friend, Jennifer.

Jennifer died in December 2019 from breast cancer. She was such a good friend, and I miss her dearly. I wrote “Jennifer’s Poem” for her upcoming celebration of life ceremony.

I know my friend very well, and I think she’d want me to know that there’s an afterlife and that she’s okay. Moments like this remind me how connected we are in life and death.

Fun-loving, carefree Jennifer (Photo by Gina M. Gafford)

Namaste, world.