Healing approaches

Cultivating mindfulness to support transformational change

Butterfly on zen Stones

By Laura McAvoy, transformational coach

There are many ways to experience mindfulness and meditation, whether through your own daily practice, within an embodiment tradition such as yoga or Tai Chi, or perhaps as part of a practical approach to stress reduction, to name but a few.

Mindfulness might not immediately spring to mind when you think of transformational coaching, with its focus on speaking and conversation to help you move your life forward. Yet mindfulness and coaching can have a big impact if the two approaches are combined – especially if you are feeling ‘stuck’.

It is an absolute truth that we can make a choice and make a change. Yet, deep personal transformation – the kind that brings significant, lasting and meaningful change – can often feel like a long process.

At times of transition – after becoming a parent, during and after illness or bereavement, in mid-life, during menopause or at certain points in our relationships or work – we can be called on to take stock, to turn inward and ask ourselves: Who am I and what do I really want?

Clients who start coaching work are often on the crest of this wave, seeking answers and with an awareness that something needs to move forward but wrestling back and forth in dilemma. They often feel hemmed-in by life circumstances, unsure of whether they have the resources within themselves to create something new and feeling trapped in circular thought patterns based on indecision.

The aim of a transformational coach in this scenario is to shift that sense of inertia or paralysis by helping to liberate their thinking.

If you are feeling stuck and want to start helping yourself immediately though, it could be useful to explore the attitudes on which mindfulness is based, which is an excellent place to begin. According to Emily Johnston, one of my trainers and a long standing mindfulness and wellbeing coach, mindfulness is underpinned by seven key attitudes:

  1. Non-judgement;
  2. Patience;
  3. Beginner’s mind;
  4. Trust;
  5. Non-striving;
  6. Acceptance;
  7. Letting go.

Sit for a while and sample the flavour of each of these attitudes, before combining them with some simple coaching questions. Doing so should help you shift perspective on your current situation.

Non-judgement

If you have been feeling stuck or as if you are not moving forward, your self-talk is likely to involve an element of judgement.

Ask yourself: How am I judging myself in this situation? Where am I placing blame? How is this judgement serving me in either moving forward or staying stuck?

See if you can ease yourself – even if only for while – into a state of non-judgement. Could you re-tell your story using only factual statements without your ‘inner critic’ rising up? If you are unsure, write your story down and read it back as if it had been written by a friend. What would you say to them upon reading it? How does this approach change things?

Beginner’s mind

This is my absolute favourite. ‘Beginner’s mind’ asks us to view our situation with curiosity and to approach it with an almost childlike wonder and openness as if for the very first time, with all of our preconceptions lifted. In other words, look at things as if they offer a new possibility.

Ask yourself: What have I not explored in my situation? What might I have missed? What other meanings could this situation hold for me? What other outcomes may be available?

Trust

Trust plays a crucial part in helping us make a shift. If we do not trust ourselves, our environment or other people, it makes it hard to be free ourselves enough to make the choices we desire.

Ask yourself: Where does my trust lie? What, if anything, is hindering my belief in myself? Who and what can help to support me?

Non-striving

The idea of ‘non-striving’ may seem to go against most people’s idea of coaching, but it actually sits at the heart of transformative practice. Deep transformation involves a process of unfolding, which entails listening in to yourself and being responsive to what arises, and even changing course if needs be.

Ask yourself: How can I bring a sense of more ease into my life? How can I honour the process in which I am finding myself? How can I truly be present?

Acceptance

Once we see things how they really are and are less clouded by judgement, fear and limiting beliefs, such acceptance can be freeing. It is not only about accepting the circumstances that surround us but also about accepting what is rising within us in terms of our emotions.

The discomfort provoked by some feelings could be too difficult to experience, so instead of accepting them and allowing them to express and dissipate, we supress or deny them. But it might also be worth exploring whether we accept the role that we are playing in what is happening too.

Ask yourself: What, if anything, have I been struggling to accept? What might I need to allow to rise within me? What am I feeling?

Letting go

Letting go is a process that naturally follows noticing and accepting.

Ask yourself: What is ready to be released in my life? What thoughts, beliefs, behaviours, relationships, old patterns and habits are no longer serving me? What will support me in letting them go? Where might more forgiveness be helpful?

By questioning your situation with an attitude of mindfulness, you could gain new traction. The story in your head might not be the ‘whole truth’, so it may be possible to find a fresh perspective by engaging in a mindfulness or meditation practice that suits you.

If this suggestion resonates, it may be helpful to find the time and set the intention to cultivate the seven attitudes of mindfulness within you. Just five to 10 minutes of meditation a day can make a big difference if you practice it consistently.

Laura McAvoy

Laura McAvoy provides transformative coaching and dialogue for women. She also offers group coaching courses, coaching circles and 1:1 work, all of which incorporates mindfulness and meditation. Laura works in Saffron Walden, Essex, and the surrounding area.

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Healing approaches

Sound healing: Using the gong to restore harmony and balance

Gong

By Gayatri, yoga, meditation teacher and gong practitioner

How does it feel when you hear a piece of music that touches you deeply? Is there a physical response? Do you find yourself moved to tears? Or is there an energetic movement, which means you can feel your heart open and your spirit sore?

In essence, because we all consist of energy vibrating at different frequencies, sound has an enormous impact on us. So it would seem natural to use sounds and vibration to restore balance and harmony to our whole being.

Sound healing has been in use for thousands of years. Many cultures, ranging from the ancient Greeks and Egyptians to Native Americans and shamans, have employed it as a way of restoring balance to the mind, body and spirit. For example, the Aboriginal people of Australia have played the didgeridoo for at least 40,000 years as a way of treating illnesses and conditions, which includes mending broken bones and muscle tears.

Sound and vibration is also deeply embedded in many spiritual traditions. The ancient language of Sanskrit, originally passed on in an oral tradition, has 48 letters/sounds, with each one said to produce a vibration that resonates with different parts of our physical and energetic body.

The Western world, meanwhile, began to rediscover sound as a tool to aid healing in the early 1940s when ultrasound was first used for detecting brain tumours. Music therapy also started emerging following the research of the French otolaryngologist, Dr Alfred Tomatis.

He discovered a way to improve and restore the damaged hearing of individuals by playing sounds they could not hear through an electronic device that stimulates the muscles in the inner ear. The Tomatis Method has since helped various other conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, attention deficit disorder and autism.

One of the most powerful instruments used in sound healing today though is the gong. It has a broader range of tones than any other instrument and so can produce a huge range of sounds and vibrations.

An ancient instrument, it is not clear from where it originated, although it possibly first appeared during the Bronze Age. The first record of the gong dates back to the beginning of the 6th Century in Hsi Yu, a region located between Tibet and Burma in modern day China – even though the instrument is not originally Chinese. Instead its origins are in another unknown culture, which some historians believe was based in the area now known as Afghanistan.

Life force

Gongs as healing instruments

The use of gongs as healing instruments came to the West with Don Conreaux, also known as Baba Don and Guru Jagat, one of the original kundalini yoga teachers in 1969.

So how do gongs enable healing? Because the whole universe consists of vibrating energy from the sub-atomic level outwards, the more complex the organism, the more complex the range of vibration and frequencies that exist within it.

As humans, our bodies produce an orchestra of sound and vibration, with each of organ resonating at a different frequency. Because we consist of around 70% water, which is an excellent conductor of sound, gongs can help re-tune the orchestra so that it plays in harmony.

The first time you hear a gong played is a unique experience. The gong asks you to hear and experience sound in a completely new way. Unlike other instruments, you are taken on a journey through many layers of sound, consisting of overtones, undertones and vibration.

The initial sound that emerges with the first strike of a mallet is unpredictable. It swells and rises to a peak, before gently receding. The sound then re-emerges to reach a higher peak, before receding once more.

Other instruments tend to produce sounds that are more predictable and linear in their journey to peak and decline. But the sounds of the gong are non-linear, multi-layered and trans-spatial. Layers of different sounds and vibrations are built up to produce larger more complex soundscapes.

Don Conreaux described the gong as “resound”. He said: “Gong is not the sound, gong is the resound. Before resound you have no power. You go into the mountains and say one word, that echo will sound a thousand times more, for thousands of miles. That is the power of resounding sound.”

harmony

Restoring balance

Because of this complexity, you will hear a multitude of individual sounds within the gong’s soundscape. These sounds may include instruments, such as harps, bells, singing or chanting voices, linear sounding music and noises from daily life, as the mind tries to make sense of the unfathomable.

As the gong bath unfolds, the vibrations and sounds produced move through the body and vibrate through its cells. Different areas respond to the different sounds as they pass through because the sounds vibrate at the same frequency as the cells of the body. This means that any blocks or imbalances are dissolved and, by re-tuning the vibration, harmony can be restored.

Any areas that are offkey are re-tuned by a process called ‘entraining’. Entraining can be seen when two metronomes are placed side by side but are set to keep different times. As they move back and forth, their timings begin to synchronise and eventually they ‘entrain’, or match, each other, thereby working in harmony.

A similar situation takes place during a gong bath. The gong’s vibrations move through your cells and when they come across an imbalance, the process of entraining helps the cells find their way back to vibrating at a healthy frequency, thus restoring balance.

Physical rebalancing may be felt as physical sensations. For example, people with an old injury often report sensations in that area. The same happens within the body’s energy field, with higher vibrations being felt as an emotional release or change in energy.

Gong baths may be given to individuals or groups, but the normal practice is to lie on a floor bed or sit on a chair, wearing comfortable clothing and using blankets for warmth. The experience is a relaxing and rejuvenating one as the gong sounds alter your brainwaves to enable you to enter into a state of deep relaxation – and in some cases even a meditative state.

Some people recall past lives or have profound healing experiences, while others may simply feel more rested and restored. But whatever the outcome, the gong space offers a powerful therapeutic energy. It provides a space of stillness, tranquillity and gentle holding that enables each individual to go on their own unique journey towards healing.

Gayatri

Gayatri (Gail Gibbs) teaches yoga and meditation and is a gong practitioner. She is passionate about creating space for those of any age to explore their transformational potential in a safe and nurturing way. Cultivating compassion for oneself is at the heart of Gayatri’s teaching and sound work, thus allowing the process of personal growth and change to unfold.

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Healing approaches

A beginners’ guide to crystal healing

Crystal Healer Offering Selection Of Tumbled Healing Stones

By Debbie Walmsley, crystal healer and reiki practitioner

Humans have worn and used crystals since time immemorial. In fact, crystals have been on the Earth since the beginning of time, long before we came to share it. Diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds have all been used as body decoration for thousands of years and have traditionally been highly valued due to their beauty and rarity.

But ancient cultures also believed crystals had a natural healing power that could be used to promote emotional, physical and spiritual balance. While we may never learn how they accessed such knowledge, we do know that crystals were considered an important part of their civilisation. For example:

  • Ancient Romans used crystal talismans and amulets to enhance health, attract desirable objects to themselves, and provide protection in battle;
  • Ancient Egyptians lay quartz on the forehead of their dead when they buried them, believing it helped to guide the departed safely into the afterlife. Pharaohs carried cylinders filled with quartz to balance the Ba and Ka energies of the body. Royal women laid crushed lapis lazuli stones on their eyes to promote enlightenment and awareness;
  • Ancient Greeks often rubbed crushed hematite on soldier’s bodies prior to entering battle as they believed it made them invincible. Interestingly, the word ‘crystal’ is thought to derive from the Greek word ‘krustullos,’ which means ‘ice’, and until the 1500s, many people believed stones, such as clear quartz, were everlasting ice that had been sent from the Heavens;
  • Chinese medicine practitioners commonly use healing crystals in their treatments, which include crystal-tipped needles in acupuncture and Pranic healing sessions. These traditions hail from nearly 5,000 years of practice;
  • Aryuvedic medicine practitioners in India consider crystals valuable for healing emotional and metaphysical imbalances. The use of various healing crystals is documented in the pages of the Hindu Vedas, which also refers to each stone’s specific healing properties. For example, sapphires are thought to bring astuteness, clarity and mental balance, while jasper is believed to bring harmony, sexual vitality, and balance the base chakra;
  • Ancient Japanese cultures commonly undertook scrying, which is similar to looking into a crystal ball as some psychics still do today. Crystal quartz spheres were considered to represent the heart of a dragon and signified their power and wisdom.

Today though, we also rely on crystals in lots of ways without even realising it. Much of our modern technology would not be able to operate without them. For instance:

  • Quartz crystals are used in computers to record time as well as in our fridges’ cooling systems. When an electric current is passed through a quartz crystal, it vibrates at 60 hertz (60 times per second), and quartz clocks uses these vibrations to measure time;
  • Liquid Crystal Displays are found in flat screen TV’s, digital clocks and electronic picture frames;
  • Silica crystals are used to absorb odours in everything from cat litter boxes to the insides of fridges;
  • Magnetite is used to find the North and South Poles;
  • Rubies are used in lasers;
  • Fluorite is used in fluoride toothpaste;
  • Hematite is used to make nails for construction purposes;
  • Chalcopyrite is used to create copper wires.

Young woman receiving crystal healing

How do crystals work?

So what exactly are crystals anyway and how do they work in a healing context? A crystal is an organised grouping of atoms, or molecules, each with different properties and shapes. For example, sugar crystals are oblong and slanted at each end, while salt crystals are cubic.

Each crystal’s unique structure affects how it resonates, the kind of energy it attracts, and the way it clears negativity by either repelling or absorbing it. These unique properties mean the crystal vibrates at specific frequencies, which give them their ability to aid in healing.

While most people are familiar with the different functions of their physical body, the same is not necessarily true of their body’s subtle energy systems. Seen from an energetic perspective, we are all made up of layers of vibrating energy, each of which has their own specific vibration and purpose.

The physical body though consists of energy that vibrates very slowly, which is why it appears to be solid. Compare this with ice, which is a solid structure made from water that is vibrating very slowly. This means that it likewise appears solid. But when its atoms vibrate more quickly, the ice becomes liquid again. Faster still and it turns to steam.

Quantum physics indicates that atoms consist purely of energy waves with their own invisible force field. These energy waves can be measured and their effects seen, but they are made up of electricity. Science is now embracing the idea that we, and the universe, are created out of this energy.

So crystal healing operates by working with the body’s innate ability to heal itself. Crystals are amazing energy conductors and, when used in healing, enable the body’s energy to move around in order to find its natural flow. When our energy is balanced, we experience wellbeing, which supports us in evolving and developing emotionally, physically and spiritually.

Crystals treat the whole person, as well as their integrated energy system, in a non-invasive way. The body’s meridians are the pathways through which our energy flows, and where these pathways cross, an energy ‘hotspot’, or chakra, is created.

Rainbow Flower of Life

Channelling universal life force energy

The chakras channel universal life force energy – which is known under a variety of names depending on the tradition, such as chi, prana, ki, or spirit – in and out of our physical and spiritual bodies. They are considered both transmitters and receivers of energy.

When these pathways are clear and open, we are physically and emotionally well and feel good. But when our meridians and/or chakras become blocked, we are likely to feel fatigue, sickness, pain or mental unbalance.

Chakras move in and out of balance naturally each and every day. Depending on what is happening around us, they respond to the highs and the lows of everyday life. Stress, minor illnesses, emotions and even your thoughts affect the balance of your chakras. If they stay out of balance for too long, your body will experiences dis-ease, which is a state of not benefiting from ease or wellbeing.

During a crystal healing session carefully chosen crystals are placed either on your chakras and/or around the physical body. These crystals absorb, focus, direct, detoxify, shift and diffuse energy as they interact with vibrations within the body’s energy field, helping to bring the mind, body, spirit and environment back into harmony and restoring the body’s natural rhythm and inner balance.

Healing using crystals can occur at various levels:

  • Physical: The deep relaxation generated is an effective antidote to stress, anxiety or depression, and is helpful in maintaining general wellbeing. It can help to relieve the physical symptoms of stress-related illnesses, provide pain relief by relaxing muscle tension and may assist with immune disorders. It has also been shown to be helpful for insomnia, chronic fatigue, raised blood pressure and sleep problems;
  • Emotional: It can help to stabilise moods and enhance self-esteem;
  • Mental: It may assist in providing clarity and enhancing focus and can be used to transform unwanted behaviours, thought patterns and addictions;
  • Spiritual: It can help to enable an acceptance of, and create harmony with, all aspects of being, leading to a more peaceful and centred life.

Wearing crystals may enable you to experience their healing and spiritual properties, while placing them in your home or office can help to clear negative energies or leave a room feeling more calm and relaxed. Crystals may also be used for meditation to help focus and clear the mind.

Some – although not all, so do exercise care – can even be used to create an elixir to drink. They work from the inside out, or can applied directly to the skin.

A key thing to remember though is that crystals work on a continual basis. Each balances specific elements, whether they relate to mind, body or spirit, so if you feel drawn to a particular stone, it is probably for a reason. Just pick it up, hold it or play with it and notice how you feel.

Put another way, crystal healing aids wellbeing, whether it is physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. And wellbeing naturally comes about when our energy flows freely and is in balance.

Debbie Walmsley

Debbie Walmsley is a reiki practitioner, crystal healer, master hypnotherapist and Three Principles facilitator. She is also a member of the International Alliance of Holistic Therapists and the Complimentary Medical Association. Debbie has been a natural healer all her life, having first discovered the power of healing in her teenage years. She has studied various forms of energy healing, which included spending a month in Peru with a shaman.

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Yoga Nidra: Learning to relax, consciously

Yoga Nidra Savasana pose

By Theresa Banovic, yoga and yoga nidra teacher

Yoga Nidra is a powerful meditation technique, based on ancient tantric practices, that helps you learn to relax consciously.

You may feel as if you are relaxing when you lounge on the sofa with a cuppa, watch TV, or read a book, but such activities will never meet the body’s need to relax completely. Even sleep is not actually regarded as relaxation from a Yoga Nidra point of view.

Instead the idea is that true relaxation takes us far beyond any sensory diversions. When our consciousness remains connected to our senses, we become less receptive. But when experiencing Yoga Nidra, it is about remaining aware while turning inwards, away from outer experiences to settle into a state of deep calm.

So just how does this happen? When practising Yoga Nidra, you generally lie down flat on your back on the ground (in yoga, this is known as Savasana pose) – although resting in a semi-reclined position or sitting in a chair is fine too if lying is not possible for you. Make sure you are as comfortable as you can be by wearing warm clothes, socks and even a lovely eye pillow infused with essential oils if you like. Blankets, cushions and bolsters can also help here too.

Your teacher/guide/recording will then lead you through breath awareness exercises, before systematically referring to different parts of the body fairly swiftly. All you need to do is mentally repeat each body part to yourself, place your awareness there and feel the area relax.

There is no need to move. It is more about listening, trying to surrender to the experience and going with the flow of this wonderful healing practice.

Om mantra

Experiencing deep relaxation

The idea is to keep your mind moving from point to point, remaining aware of every experience. Deep relaxation should take place at a cellular level, enabling physical, emotional and mental tensions to be released. Ideally, you should try not to fall asleep – although sometimes it is simply not possible.

When we relax deeply with the help of Yoga Nidra, we clear a space for the unconscious and subconscious levels of the mind to open and become really receptive. This means that, if we plant an idea there at this time, it will become very potent – like planting a seed and watching it grow.

So it is very important to make an intention, or Sankalpa, at the start. This can act as a positive way of focussing on the direction you would like to take in life, something you would like for yourself such as a new job or better health, or something you would like to give up. It could be a future goal, or even a simple act of gratitude.

Swami Satyananda described Yoga Nidra as an invaluable stress management tool, which could even be used to learn a language or other subject. In truth, it can be used to train the mind to accomplish anything.

It is usual to make a Sankalpa every time you practice Yoga Nidra, although it makes sense to stick to the same one for a while – and, if you use the technique regularly, you should be able to notice a change. In fact, if you choose to practice Yoga Nidra regularly, it will inevitably become an integral and invaluable part of your life.

Theresa Banovic

Theresa Banovic is a BWY yoga instructor and wellness advocate. She teaches Hatha yogaRestorative yoga and the Yoga Nidra meditation technique in a class setting, while offering yoga and massage retreats in both the UK and Portugal too. Theresa is also a trained provider of Ayurvedic massage.

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Healing approaches

Kundalini yoga: Taking on the challenge of transformational change

women s white top and orange floral skirt
Photo by Samuel Silitonga on Pexels.com

By Sarah Stollery, kundalini yoga and meditation teacher

As the turn of the year approaches once again, how many of you have started thinking about New Year’s resolutions – even if, quite often, they are not very new at all? In fact, all too often, they are actually the same ones we made last year but did not stick to.

Which begs the question of why bother? Change is hard work. So shouldn’t we just accept ourselves as we are and let go of the idea that we could create a better version of ourselves?

Loving and accepting ourselves for who we are is certainly a worthy aim. But even doing that meaningfully can require transformation of a kind – a transformation in our thinking.

And what about those resolutions that really would support us in living more fulfilling, connected and joyous lives? If you are stuck in a job you hate, it IS important to make 2019 the year you find a new vocation.

If you are feeling stifled creatively, 2019 IS the year to find a satisfying outlet for your passion. If you are chronically stressed and exhausted, 2019 IS the year to find a more balanced and sustainable way of living.

Illustration with mantra om sign surrounded by energy beams

Transformational change

But change is challenging, and sometimes the best intentions in the world are simply not enough to ensure temporary change becomes lasting transformation. That is where kundalini yoga and meditation come in. They act as tools to help bring about authentic, lasting transformation by working on multiple levels.

Habits, both good and bad, exist not just in our subconscious and unconscious minds, but also in our cellular memory as well. So, to delete old habits and create new ones successfully, it is necessary to work on all of these levels. Kundalini yoga can help here by:

  • Rewiring our nervous system to remove old habits and embed new ones;
  • Rebalancing and reprogramming our endocrine (hormonal) system to support us through the emotional challenges that change generates;
  • Cultivating a neutral mind so that we have the necessary awareness to make conscious choices untainted by ego, which resists change;
  • Developing an achievable daily practice that specifically targets the changes we wish to make;
  • Providing us with a supportive community of fellow yogis, who are also working towards making change and so help to keep us accountable.

Life is too short to write off effecting transformational change in the name of loving and accepting ourselves as we are. It is important to remember that we cannot fully love and accept ourselves if we are not living an authentic life in which we recognise and honour our own needs. So it is vital to put in the hard work required to ensure those needs are met by creating the necessary change.

If you would like support in making such changes real and lasting, check out my new six-week Kundalini Yoga and Meditation Course starting on 16 January 2019 at the Mokshala Yoga and Meditation Centre in Saffron Walden, Essex. You won’t regret it.

sarah stollery headshot

Sarah Stollery is a kundalini yoga and meditation teacher and co-founder of The Cabin, a self-directed learning community for home-educated children. She is passionate about empowering people of all ages and stages of life with the tools to thrive in these challenging times by creating space to learn, explore and integrate a wide range of wellbeing practices.

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