Finding my Current Obsession

I have been working with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) now for almost one year. In that year I have worked on developing an educational program, a seven week workshop series that includes physical postures, breathing exercises, guided meditation and mindfulness exercises. The focus of the workshop is on building skills and accessing tools that encourage a healthy lifestyle and lead to better management of mental health.

The first series took place fall of 2010. I have been using this spring to evaluate how the first series went and what changes we might want to make to the program. One very evident change that needs to be made is to dedicate more time to meditation. Meditation was one of the smaller sections of the 2010 series, but after getting participant feedback, it was obvious that it was one of the most powerful tools taught.  One NAMI-consumer and 2010 NAMI~Yoga graduate said, “I was amazed at how helpful just learning to breath deeper and slower could be.  Over the course I began to recognize my physical reactions to stress before I felt the emotions.  All the lessons we learned gave me a feeling of control.”

Exit surveys filled out by students had one common thread. Everyone wanted to know more about meditation and understand why it had such a powerful effect on their level of happiness.  Even for a yoga teacher and mediator, I felt unable to answer my students’ questions.  I decided to revamp the NAMI-Yoga workshop curriculum to include more meditation and dig into the research to try and find the answers to my students’ questions.  These questions led me to my current obsession, the science of meditation.  I wanted to address the question: can meditation significantly improve mental health for those with a diagnosed mental illness?

Over the next month I will be sharing snip-its of what I have been learning.  In the meantime I would love to hear more about what you know?

Meditation Overview

Psychology Today offers a nice overview of meditation that is not overly esoteric or too scientifically heady.  I thought some of you might enjoy the read.

Published in: on April 29, 2011 at 5:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Simple Introduction to Meditation

What is Meditation?

It means many different things to most people. One eloquent definition of meditation by Pema Chodron states, “…by learning to peacefully abide in sitting meditation: (we are) creating the space for our garden to grow. Then we can cultivate qualities that will allow us to live our lives in full bloom.” (Turning the Mind Into an Ally, p#7) Mary NurrieStearns, LCSW, RYT, clearly defines meditation as, “…taking some time to sit; focus your attention on your breath, mantra or stillness; and witness your thoughts.” (Yoga for Anxiety, p#176)

What does meditation mean to you?

How do we Meditate?

Some people spend their whole life in pursuit of this answer, but we aren’t going to make it that complicated. To begin your meditation practice you just need to find a way to be physically comfortable, keep a high quality of breathe, and find as much mental stillness as possible. Some people never sit or find physical stillness during meditation, but it is commonly believed that the stiller the body the greater ease with which you will find mental stillness. There is no right or wrong way to meditate. The important thing is to find what works for you.  Let us explore some helpful meditation techniques.  What are some techniques you use?

  • Moving Mindfulness – walking, hiking, yoga asana and other deep awareness movement
  • Rhythmic Movement – swaying, ‘mudra tapping’, muscle tension & release
  • Sound Vibrations – chanting, mantra repetition, kirtan, singing/relaxing music, ‘om’ing
  • Withdrawal of Senses – ear plugs, eyes closed
  • Single Mental Focus – scents, candle flame, breath, mantra
  • Thought Detachment – non-judgmental thought labeling, non-identification with thought

How does meditating help us?

According to Psychology Today, “Neuroscientists have found that meditators shift their brain activity to different areas of the cortex – brain waves in the stress-prone right frontal cortex move to the calmer left frontal cortex. This mental shift decreases the negative effects of stress, mild depression and anxiety. There is also less activity in the amygdala, where the brain processes fear.”

Meditating can be challenging and sometimes very frustrating, but science has proven it to be a practice of uncountable positive effects. With regular practice you can expect to be calmer, think more clearly, sleep better, and so much more.

I would love to hear how meditation has helped or challenged you? Share what has or has not worked for you.

(This post was originally posted October 2010)

Published in: on April 27, 2011 at 5:58 pm  Comments (2)  
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New Class Coming to Yoga for Life

Yoga Exploration
Every Wednesday 12:15pm – 1:15pm at Yoga for Life

Starting May 18th come explore yoga’s endless benefits.

Evergreen Library Plaza
3065 N. Cole
Boise, Idaho 83704

Angela R. Bryson, RYT
Phone: (208) 473-1249

During this sixty minute class Angela will help you explore the many facets of yoga. Classes will include meditation, pranayama (breathing exercises) and asanas (postures). Each class will vary in content and be tailored to students’ interests. Everyone will be encouraged to ask questions and expand their knowledge. The class is open to all and is appropriate for all ability levels. Shanti Yoga School students can earn contact hours with an observation write-up.

Boise yoga teacher Angela Bryson is a graduate of Shanti Yoga School and a registered yoga teacher with the Yoga Alliance. She was trained at an interdisciplinary school and has studied with a wide variety of teachers including Debbie Murphy, Sean Corne, Hala Khouri and Julian Walker.  The focus of her studies has been on emotional yoga and the use of self empowerment to increase life satisfaction.

Flier PDF

Published in: on April 26, 2011 at 11:15 pm  Leave a Comment  


I recently had to do a social psychology assignment that required me to either be nice or be rude for twenty four hours.  I just could not commit to being rude to people.  I am not saying that I am never rude to people, but not on purpose.  Somehow it feels unethical to be purposely rude to people.  What if my rudeness upset someone enough that they couldn’t focus during driving and got in an accident?  What if I angered someone enough that they engaged in displacement and went home and kicked their dog?  I would feel partially responsible.  Therefore, I was left with the option to be nice to people.  What do I believe “being nice” means?

My definition of ‘being nice’:  communicate with warmth, sincerity, clarity, and truthfulness…listen respectfully…be generous, compassionate and empathetic.  Be mindful of what messages your actions may communicate and cultivate ‘loving- kindness’.

To help me maintain my ‘niceness’ I  practiced a meditation called the Loving-kindness or Metta Bhavana meditation. This included recalling parts of the Metta-sutta (excerpt included below) and focusing my concentration on expanding the compassion and empathy I feel for my loved ones to all beings.  The practice can take many forms, but I prefer to use my imagination to envision compassion and empathy as a colored haze that I direct from my heart to all those beings within my sight and then let that light expand to all those unseen.  It might sound silly, but I have found it to be a very powerful exercise.

The following is a short excerpt from the Metta-sutta, which recounts the Buddha’s teaching on loving-kindness:   “This is what should be done by one who is skilled in goodness…be able and upright, straightforward and gentle in speech. Humble and not conceited, contented and easily satisfied… peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful, not proud and demanding in nature. Let them not do the slightest thing that the wise would later reprove…May all beings be at ease. Whatever living beings there may be; whether they are weak or strong, omitting none, the great or the mighty, medium, short or small, the seen and the unseen, those living near and far away, those born and to-be-born, May all beings be at ease!”

If you would like to read the full Metta-sutta it can be found online or on page 92 of the following resource:

Levine, N. (2011). The Heart of the Revolution: The Buddha’s Radical Teachings on Forgiveness, Compassion, and Kindness. New York, New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

Published in: on April 25, 2011 at 3:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Max Strom ~ There is No App for Happiness

The above video is 16 minutes long, but worth the time.  Max is a great voice to remind us of the power of breath and the human connection.  I hope you all have a wonderful day.


Published in: on April 22, 2011 at 6:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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What is neuroplasticity?

Most people understand that they can change their fitness regime and change their physical muscle structure.  Not as well understood is the ability to structurally change the brain.  Yes I said, “change the brain”.  Whether trying to change or not our entire physical selves, including our brain, are constantly undergoing change.

“The brain’s ability to act and react in ever-changing ways is known, in the scientific community, as “neuroplasticity.” This special characteristic allows the brain’s estimated 100 billion nerve cells… to constantly lay down new pathways for neural communication and to rearrange existing ones throughout life, thereby aiding the processes of learning, memory, and adaptation through experience.” (memoryzine)

I wanted to introduce the idea of neuroplasticity as we begin to explore meditation. I plan to cover multiple topics related to meditation over the rest of April.  If there are specific questions you have please don’t hesitate to ask and I will do my best to find you some helpful information.

Published in: on April 18, 2011 at 7:13 pm  Comments (2)  
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Eloquently Beautiful

I discovered a blog by James R. Ure that I have really been enjoying.  Today he wrote an eloquently beautiful entry.  Below is an excerpt:

“I have found that some of the most profound lessons from meditative awareness come when I’m drifting off to sleep. It’s a time when I’m aware of my breathing more than most times throughout the day. It’s also a time when you aren’t distracted by the television, computers or other distractions. It’s just you and your breath; as each cycle of breath brings deeper and deeper relaxation. Often I crack the window to feel the cool breeze calm my tense muscles and skin; I focus on the smells of clean air pouring through.

So, last night it rained for the first time this Spring. It was a soft but rhythmic shower that filled our rain gutters with gurgling activity. As I listened to the rushing water in the darkness of night, my usually stubborn perceptions couldn’t tell if it was a natural stream or a man-made one. In that moment, those perceptions gave up and fell away. In that moment, it was simply bubbling water. As my mind began to relax further, it melded with the sound of the rushing water, so that there was no difference between the water and the entity labeled “James.” The next thing I knew, I was waking up.”  by James R. Ure

Published in: on April 15, 2011 at 4:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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New take on downward dog…

Don’t worry no chihuahuas were hurt in the taking of these pictures.

Inverted Toby Snuggles

I agonized for months about whether or not to buy my Omgym.  Every since I had the oppurtunity to try out aerial silks last November I have been antsy to get in the air again.  I really wanted to buy silks, but don’t have high ceilings in my house.  I have some great trees, but as Boise locals know, this would only allow me to fly about five months out of the year.  So what do I do the rest of the year?  Well, I discovered the Omgym.  It is pricey at $200 and I was worried it could get boring.

Finally, I decided I just couldn’t wait for another option.  I ordered my Omgym in green on a Tuesday and it arrived the following Monday.  I love it!  I have used it everyday since I got it except one and that was because I have to use it outside and it was raining. I plan to put eye bolts in my living room ceiling ASAP.  I have a low back injury that has been giving me trouble lately.  After just a couple of sessions of hanging in inversion I have had no pain.  If all I ever do is hang upside down in the darn thing, I would consider it some of the best money I have ever spent!

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Published in: on April 13, 2011 at 4:03 pm  Comments (2)  

What do your words say?

Published in: on April 12, 2011 at 7:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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