Vitamin R: Getting Your Daily Dose of Relaxation

January 28, 2008

I often feel as if society is moving frantically all around me, like those small tin spinning tops we played with when we were little. I remember those colorful tops well, spinning faster and faster until they whipped out of control and toppled over on their sides, exhausted with their own efforts. Interestingly, when I feel as if I am a bit scattered it seems as if I encounter others who are equally hurried and pressed for time. Curiously, I ask myself, is it them or is it me? In other words, is the chaos happening around me or within me? If like attracts like, then am I vibrating with chaos and thus attracting the same to me, or is the world spinning wildly and causing me to go too fast?

Sometimes it is hard to tell. But actually I think it is a bit of both. For if we accept that there is a collective consciousness, then we agree that each individual’s personal energy influences the larger good (or the “not so good,” as the case may be!). Thus, when a few people feel frantic, it causes more people to feel the same, and so on and so on, until things seem to build into a whirling mess. That’s when we come home and collapse on the sofa, uptight and upset from the energies we have experienced in the world, glad to be back in our little enclave that feels so safe and calm. The good news is that this dance of energy can flow in the opposite manner too. That is, when one or more people feel peaceful, then their serenity contributes to the greater good. Therefore, if each person makes a concerted effort to find a space of relaxation during his or her day, not only does that person benefit, but so does the world. So the question becomes how can we access more tranquillity? How can we schedule relaxation into our day? And if we have to schedule it, is it really relaxation?

I have a beautiful cat who never seems to forget to relax. One moment she is dozing in the sun and the next moment she is carefully washing each paw, a study in serene focus. When I watch her, it is as if I can hear her absence of thought. This sound is quiet but palpable. I observe the joy of her breath coming in and her breath going out, the sun shining on her fur and in turn her taking in its warmth. In her gentle state of relaxed living, it really seems as if she is in some sort of divine allignment with the innate tempo of the planet. I am not referring to the manmade planet of chaos, but rather the real planet, the one that we call home everyday, the one that supports our every movement and does not waiver underneath us, even when we forget to thank or honor her. This planet, Mother Earth, beats below all of the human madness, existing as Nature itself and all things that we love about life. If we listen, we can hear her presence; if we slow down we can connect with her; and if we connect with her, we can touch our own souls.

I have noticed that the busier people get, the more difficult they think it is to relax. But really relaxation is not so hard. It should be a part of our daily routines, just as we wash our faces and brush our teeth in the morning. Instead of running to check email in the morning, we might consider making meditation the most natural thing we do upon rising. In the ancient Indian tradition of ayurveda (literally “the science of life”), relaxation is as important and inherent to our wellbeing as is eating well or getting enough sleep. In fact, ayurveda encourages us to brilliantly take our cues from Nature, following the rhythm of the day–rising as the sun rises, easing into our day with a little meditation or a walk; eating and performing the most activities when the sun is high in the sky and our energies are the strongest; and winding down our routines at night as the planet also goes to sleep. But instead, we are not only wound up but also wound up all wrong! Everything we do in our “developed” society seems to be, in fact, not just fast but also all backwards. I know many people who skip eating breakfast and sometimes even lunch because they are too busy, but then they consume a heavy meal at night followed by a good helping of icecream. It is also common for people to go to the gym after a long work day, waking up the body by running on the treadmill when they should be settling down their energies. I always feel it is a little odd and sad when I drive by a gym in the evening and see people working out on a sundry of fancy machines, like little frantic rats caught in a strange maze. “Go home! Relax! Your timing is all mixed up!” I want to shout to them through the glass windows, but then for sure, I would appear crazier than they do.

In our society, bodywork (such as massage, Reiki, chiropractic, acupuncture) is usually considered a luxury, and anyone who meditates daily must have just a little too much time on her hands. I don’t care if people call me lazy or self-indulgent, for I have never felt guilty about claiming my share of personal calm or inner peace. Rather, I have learned that bodywork and meditation are integral to my wellbeing, and without such opportunities for relaxation, I am lost and not very nice to be around. In fact, more and more, I sense, but do not take in, the whirling energies around me for my meditation and bodywork attune my being to be peaceful, no matter what. And that is a very good feeling. The combination of daily meditation and regular bodywork also makes me more intuitive, so that when I do feel things getting just a little too frantic, I can easily say to myself “Stop! You need to chill out!” And not only that, but I can truthfully say that I know what my being needs, so that when chiropractic is called for, I am on my way to my wonderful Network chiropractor; when Reiki energy work is what I crave, then I find myself on the table for a Reiki session; and when I just need to be alone and breath or chant, I am there, at my altar, enjoying a private date with the gods.

Actually, the New Year is a wonderful creation, because it gives us the opportunity to take a step back, review what we did or did not do last year, and then reinvent ourselves. My personal mission is not only to keep balance a priority in my own life, but also to educate anyone I can about the importance of integrating relaxation into our lives. It seems that I encounter too many people who are simply moving too fast and forgetting to make their inner space a priority. Just as we eat well, exercise, and take nutritional supplements, so too must we factor in relaxation, in what ever form most appeals to us. A bath a night with candles, weekly bodywork of some sort, walks after dinner, or daily meditation–all represent subtle ways that we can create calming results within ourselves. And when we are calm, we affect our neighbors positively and in the end the greater good of all who live here.

This year I am being even more aware to be kinder and gentler with myself, not as a luxury or some self-absorbed oddity, but as an important part of my own health and healing. May all who read these words make the same commitment.

The Healing Power of Touch Through Reiki

September 21, 2007

Today it seems that in the Western world we are more and more insulated from one another. Typically we ride around in air-conditioned cars (often too immense), with windows rolled up and the outside environment virtually blocked out. When I was younger we actually enjoyed driving to the beach with our windows down, experiencing the wind whipping through the car. I remember the salty smell and the humidity in the air as we approached the shore after a few hours ride in the car. At stop lights we would talk to the people next to us and have a good laugh before pulling away as the light changed. But today most people would prefer to forego any interaction with strangers in public, instead choosing to chat on cell phones in mysterious, private conversations. In LA, even when the weather is beautiful but not too hot, people prefer to use air-conditioning in their cars, rather than allowing the warm air to flow in and around us. The other day I was surprised when a woman actually spoke to me while I was buying peaches at the grocery store. Her comments lulled me out of my own inner world, and as we discussed how the quality of peaches was much better at the farmers’ market, I started thinking about how rare this banal but important communication with strangers is. In addition, I thought, if we rarely even speak to one another, what about touch? Is touch becoming extinct as we immerse ourselves in the world of computers, email, and giant air-conditioned suvs?

You could say that I work in a world of touch, for I teach and practice Reiki, an ancient healing artform that uses touch to transmit energy. Reiki involves a light, laying-on of hands system in order to conduct “universal life-force energy” to facilitate healing. Without touch, I could still transmit the energy, but touching the client is preferable in most cases, as it provides a more nurturing and effective process. There are some instances in which a Reiki practitioner might choose not to touch someone–perhaps if the energy is being sent over a distance, if the recipient is not comfortable being touched, or even with an animal who is reticent about direct touch. But in most cases, the practitioner will lightly place her hands on the body in a sequence of hand positions in order to send or transmit the energy.

Sometimes people ask me how Reiki works. I would say that Reiki combines both the power of life-force energy (called prana in India, chi in China, and ki in Japan) and the power of touch, with perhaps a little bit of mystery thrown in for good measure. Reiki will flow when the practitioner sits and lays her hands on the recipient of healing; however many other factors influence the quality of the healing session as well, such as how peaceful is the space where the Reiki is done, how calm and centered is the practitioner doing the Reiki, and how well the recipient is able to relax. A healing session begins when the person commits to the session, lies on the table and closes the eyes. I know this to be true because often a person lies down in the dimly-lit healing room, with peaceful music playing in the background, and before the practitioner has touched the body, the recipient exclaims how good he/ she feels! Therefore, we could say that healing begins when we choose to shut out the outer chaos, relax, and go within.

Interestingly I have found that animals, children, and the elderly make for some of the easiest recipients of healing because they seem to forego thoughtforms and just “be.” When someone’s energy is compromised due to illness, that person is also highly receptive to healing and the Reiki seems to flow into the energy field in a most immediate manner. For the practitioner, it is always interesting and educational to work on different types of people and animals, for each experience allows the practitioner the chance to stretch her intuitive skills and convey the healing energy in just the way it is needed in that moment.

The other day I watched a cat wash her face after eating. Each stroke of her paw was gentle, beautiful, and yet deliberate too, as she licked the paw first and then rubbed it over her face. There were no cares about anything else in those moments as all attention focused on the washing process. I imagine Reiki healing to be a similar dance of movement and energy. As the practitioner’s hands touch someone during a healing session, energy is focused but calm, and all thoughts are on the here and now. For both client and practitioner there is no worry about the past or anticipation of the future, just a quiet awareness of the present. This time of healing represents an opportunity for the recipient to become enveloped in touch, nurtured by the flow of Reiki, as the breath comes in and the breath goes out. Reiki allows people to slow down, reconnect with the beautiful power of touch, and commune with their inner spirits. As more people on the planet tap into Reiki and other healing modalities, a more peaceful wave will move through our communities, allowing all of us a more loving way of being.