An Invitation to Seek a Place of Rest

In The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully, Frank Ostaseski, the co-founder of the Zen Hospice Center, shares what he has learned through his work with people facing grief and loss, s well as his own life experience and spiritual practice.

He distills a lot of wisdom into the Five Invitations. They are principles that show us how to wake up more fully to our lives and appreciate life’s preciousness.

I suspect many JoyBooters will relate and enjoy delving into his ideas and stories. In these days of societal stress and polarization, and for people facing the challenges of illness, recovery, or loss, one invitation stands out to me this week:

The invitation is to find a place of rest in the middle of things.

The place to rest might be physical or how you feel in the company of a love one. It may even be available to you in your own breath in which you let go with each exhale. If you don’t let go, you can’t fully take in your next breath or be fully present to the next moment.

Here are a few nuggets he teaches about the breath:

  • Breathing is a living process, constantly changing and moving in cycles- inhale, pause, exhale, pause. Each breath has a beginning, middle, and end. Every breath goes through a process of birth, growth, and death. Breathing is a microcosm of life itself.
  • While we might believe otherwise, there is nothing boring about being with the breath. When we open to the miracle of breath and sense directly the process of oxygenation, we appreciate how, through a creative collaboration with our blood, air reaches every cell of our bodies. 
  • The breath invites us to rest, restore, and be revitalized.

I invite you to practice letting your breath to breathe you. Click here to practice with me. Notice how the breath moves your body and the path it follows as it enters, nourishes, and leaves you. Each moment is totally new. Each breath is unique, purposeful, and essential to life….

From Anxious to Grounded

We’re living from one day to the next with additional layers of stress, worry and anxiety. Things may feel overwhelming, out of control and uncertain. Learning to be okay in the present moment, a witness to your life experience, is one of the benefits of practicing yoga and meditation.

When you bring your awareness to the present moment, you activate the part of your brain (the frontal lobe) that regulates and soothes emotions. You also increase the possibility of feeling compassion for yourself and others.

Cutting edge psychotherapy recognizes these 3 elements from yoga and meditation that help you come into the present moment, lower anxiety, and tolerate acute stress and post traumatic stress:

Feeling grounded
Feel connected to your body, your breath, and to the physical space around you including the floor and the earth.

Being the Observer
Be the witness to what you are thinking and feeling, instead of being captured by every thought or feeling, pulled into reliving the past, or worrying about the future.

Allowing Everything
Once you notice the thought, feeling or sensation, give it permission to be present.  Imagine it has the right be here. Don’t try to push it away. Allow everything to simply BE, just as it is, in this moment.

Healing occurs more readily when you are able to feel grounded, recognize the relative safety of the present moment, feel your feelings, and speak your truth. We can all benefit from taking time to be present and from giving ourselves the gift of time and space— to breathe, to feel, to be.

Join me in this yoga video to practice together:


Exploring the Effectiveness of Meditation on Post-Treatment Chemobrain

Last year, I collaborated with Ashley Henneghan, NP, PhD, to test the impact of Kirtan Kriya )mantra meditation) on chemobrain and I shared this article detailing the research with you last week.

Daily meditation is a challenge for almost everyone! As soon as you sit quietly, your mind is flooded with unresolved issues and unprocessed feelings.  Sometimes it can even be overwhelming to contend with them.  Meditation is not always a peaceful experience, especially as you are still coming to terms with a traumatic experience.

There’s a recently published study that highlights how women’s brains “age” as they go through chemotherapy – which is just about the best description that I can relate to.  I felt like my body and brain were aged 20-25 years post treatment.

I remember searching the library at MD Anderson in 2008 for studies or data on ”chemobrain” so I could understand what I was facing.  My doctors didn’t seem to understand that my cognitive impairment was real and couldn’t solely be attributed to depression or anxiety.

At that time, they were just beginning to discover that chemotherapy does indeed cross the “blood/brain” barrier.  Intuitively, I knew that my brain was part of my body so why wouldn’t it be impacted?

“…A handful of animal studies in the mid-2000s showed that chemotherapy drugs could get through the blood-brain barrier. Shortly after, a surge of neuroimaging studies provided biological evidence: Brains of chemotherapy patients had to work harder during memory recall than those of cancer patients who did not receive the drugs (Clinical Cancer Research, Vol. 15, No. 21, 2009). ‘The interpretation was that their neural networks had been altered, making the brain work much harder to do the same tasks, Kesler says.” (Cognition and Cancer Treatment)

To learn more, check out this great article written by Ashley Henneghan, RN, MPH, Associate Professor at the University of Texas School of Nursing.

If you’re affected by chemobrain and want to experience the benefits of Kirtan Kriya meditation, you can read more about how to do it here. I’m also happy to share a video meditation with you here.

Meditation’s Impact on Chemobrain

Kirtan Kriya is a meditation that can help us thrive through “interesting times,” bring stability to the mind and calm to the nervous system.

I collaborated with Ashley Henneghan, PhD, MSN, RN, and the UT School of Nursing to test the impact of this meditation on people experiencing “chemobrain” and I’m excited to share this article detailing our research which was recently published in the September 2020 Journal of Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice.

Ashley and I met several years back when I participated in a study she conducted regarding the prevalence and impact of chemobrain on breast cancer survivors. Results from her earlier studiy showed:

  • Perceived cognitive changes following breast cancer treatment are multifactorial and that higher stress levels, loneliness, daytime sleepiness, and poorer sleep quality are linked to worse perceived cognitive functioning. Also, stress, loneliness, and sleep quality may affect cognitive functioning through a shared psychobiological pathway.
  • Interventions targeting stress, loneliness, and sleep quality may improve perceived cognitive functioning in breast cancer survivors.

Ashley is also a yoga and meditation practitioner and we began to discuss the possibility of collaborating to research mantra meditation as an effective intervention for cognitive impairment after chemotherapy (aka chemobrain).

Based on research conducted at UCLA showing that Kirtan Kriya reduced inflammation and improved memory and cognitive function, and from my own experience practicing and teaching it for 20 years, I suggested we study it’s possible impact on people suffering from chemobrain.

Ashley is a leading researcher on quality of life and wellness after cancer and always has several studies happening at once.  Nevertheless, she found a way to get funding from the National Institute of Nursing Research of the National Institutes of Health .  We completed a pilot study on the feasibility of studying the cognitive benefits of Kirtan Kriya on post-chemotherapy breast cancer survivors.

I was delighted to teach the meditation to our participants, explore questions and/or resistances to daily practice, and to check in on them regularly.

Results of our study showed Kirtan Kriya meditation may indeed improve verbal fluency and memory, perceived cognitive functioning, and quality of life for the cancer survivor participants.  The study also showed the feasibility of using online teaching methods (video and audio recordings) to encourage people to begin a daily meditation practice at home which can then be tracked and studied for research purposes.

Chemobrain is a frustrating and often unexpected challenge.  I’m happy to suggest Kirtan Kriya as a powerful tool to address cognitive functioning and quality of life.  You can practice with me anytime through this audio recording I made for the Therapist Uncensored podcast:

Or check out a video practice here:  You can also google Kirtan Kriya for many articles citing previous research and to find different melodies to accompany your practice!