QuaranTimes #2

By Ellie Pike

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What’s a brain to do when staying at home leaves it frazzled and freaked out? We speak with Ed Kizer - therapist, outdoors enthusiast, yogi, and expert napper - about taking the plunge and beginning a home meditation practice. Spoiler - no need to be a spiritual rockstar to begin. We’ll cover what meditation is, how to do it, and then we’ll practice!

Overactive thoughts, cabin fever, and anxiety - oh my!

What’s a brain to do when staying at home leaves it frazzled and freaked out? We speak with Ed Kizer - therapist, outdoors enthusiast, yogi, and expert napper - about taking the plunge and beginning a home meditation practice. Spoiler - no need to be a spiritual rockstar to begin.

We’ll cover what meditation is, how to do it, and then we’ll practice! Visit our website for more info on Ed, free meditation resources, and past episodes: mentalnotepodcast.com


Ellie Pike:
Welcome to Quaran Times, a special series by Mental Note Podcast about the big worlds we inhabit in our suddenly smaller daily lives. I'm your host Ellie Pike. So how would you describe the landscape of your brain lately? Is it steady, decisive and supple like a fine tuned instrument, or is it wobbly, unpredictable and a bit on the fritz? With recent disruptions to daily rhythms, community connect and income. I'm guessing we're all airing on the jumbled side of life.

Two things on that, first, that's 100% okay. We are all living through a strange and transformative time. It's completely normal to not feel like yourself. Second, I have a little secret for you. There's an evolutionary back door built into our brains that is a simple free and scientifically backed shortcut to studying thoughts and emotions.

Humans have been doing it for centuries and it only takes a couple minutes each day. Ready to know what it is? The practice is meditation and we don't have to go it alone. Our guide is a good natured practitioner from Asheville, North Carolina named Ed.

Ed Kizer:
I'm, Ed Kizer, psychotherapist living near Asheville, North Carolina.

Ellie Pike:
So Ed's been practicing meditation for years and even offers it as an option for therapy clients looking for mental clarity.

Ed Kizer:
It keeps me very grounded. It keeps me out of my head just to be, sort of trust myself, trust my presence, and be able to make decisions quickly. Access resources and confidence and just be able to move through life a little more easily and gracefully.

Ellie Pike:
Ready to sample a bit of what he's talking about? Ed and I will dive deeper into how meditation reorients our brains. Why starting is simpler than you may think. And finally, we'll get our hands dirty doing a meditation together with you. So get comfy and settle in to learn some amazing skills you never knew you had.

You're listening to Mental Note Podcast. I'm Ellie Pike. Mental Note is brought to you by Eating Recovery Center and Insight Behavioral Health Centers. Now offering virtual treatment, they're available during this unique time. See if treatment is right for you by calling 8-7-7-4-1-1-9-5-7-8.

One of the terms you'll often hear when people discuss meditation is being, "Grounded." But I wanted to know just exactly what that means and what I can expect from a practice that grounds me.

Ed Kizer:
It's just feeling that you have a, I think, sort of a center and very connected as well. Connected to the people around you, socially, the earth, you know, in my physical space.

Ellie Pike:
I can relate with that. I think the word that comes up for me is steadiness. When I feel more grounded, I feel more steady and you're right, like not pulled in different directions and I'm able to have a little bit more clarity about what my top priorities are in that moment.

So I know you can nerd out about the brain and how it's affected by mindfulness and meditation. And so I'm curious, why is mindfulness and meditation helpful in a time like this?

Ed Kizer:
So I think what's important if we think about this, is how our body responds to stress. And so right now, collectively or individually, everyone is under more stress. From extremely, you could be working in an extremely stressful environment in healthcare or lost your job. So, we're experiencing more stress.

And if we think about stress, it's helpful to remember there we're evolutionary creatures. And if you think of what the major components of what our body are, you know the brain stem and leading up at the top of the brain stem is the amygdala. That's the oldest part of our brain, the reptilian brain.

On top of that, we have the limbic system, that's the emotional part of the brain. And then above that is the cerebral cortex. It's the more cognitive piece that executive functioning and thinking parts of our brain.

Now, from an evolutionary perspective, when we encountered stress or threats, they were very dangerous. They were things we had to react to. Wild animals, other tribes that weren't friendly. And so the body had a system for doing that. And what it did is it dropped into the oldest part of the brain, the amygdala to create a stress response. You know, that was the process that helped us survive stress and threats.

Of course, modern life has... We face very different stress that we've evolved very quickly, but our brain still goes into that old pattern of fight flight or freeze. When we encounter stress,

Speaker 3:
[inaudible 00:06:00]

Ed Kizer:
Stresses today are very different. They're more sort of chronic situational. We can't respond in the same way with fighting off a threat, physically running away, which would help us by discharging the energy associated with that response. So what happens now is when we have that stress response, we're having physiologically some of the same responses or patterns.

So we're going down in amygdala. The amygdalas sending out signals to different parts of the body. It's telling the lungs to bring in extra oxygen. It's releasing chemicals in our brain to help dull pain, create energy for us just in ourselves.

But as we have those things that starts to occur now with the stresses we're facing, that energy's just sort of sitting there and it'd be like taking your car on the highway in first gear. And you're racing it. Let's go. But eventually you're going to start to wear the parts out. It's just going to start to break down.

It causes different problems. It causes symptoms of anxiety, symptoms of feeling depressed or down. We don't get to choose which response we're having so we might be feeling sort of a freeze response where we're just wanting sleep or just unmotivated. It's hard to get up.

So the meditation, what it's so key for is helping the body shift and shift out of that response, that stress response, which is the sympathetic nervous system response into the parasympathetic nervous response. And that's really what's known as the relaxation response.

When we train or we teach people to go into the parasympathetic nervous system it reverses that response and it helps the body to calm down and relax. So that's why we can use meditation to sort of stimulate this parasympathetic response and help the body relax.

Ellie Pike:
Okay. So if I had to summarize what you were saying in just a few sentences, what I'm gathering here is that our bodies are the same as caveman bodies. It doesn't know the difference between 2020 and ages ago. So it responds to stress as if we need to run or fight it, or we freeze. We're frozen in motion and overwhelmed and so that's the sympathetic nervous system and that's where all these chemicals are rushing through our brain, trying to give us the energy to cope with whatever the stressor is. So that's when we hear about cortisol and adrenaline and all of that, right?

Ed Kizer:

Ellie Pike:
And so you're saying that just by practicing something that can take us 10 minutes in a day, it can help us move from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system. And actually grounding ourselves, bringing forth the relaxation that our brain is capable of, even with stress and that could even help our immune system and our overall stress levels. Is that right?

Ed Kizer:

Ellie Pike:
Oh, you did a fantastic job teaching me that because if I'm able to reiterate it, it means you taught our listeners very well. So I'm curious if you were to just give me that two minute run down on what meditation is and how you do it, and for any of our listeners, how they want to start this practice. What are the cliff notes on meditation?

Ed Kizer:
Well, the two key components, I think, or what I teach people are about posture and breath. And posture, the way you're sitting and the position you're in is just critical because it sets up the most, sort of open and expansive breath. And the breath is so important because the breath is what really stimulates the parasympathetic response.

Anytime we breathe deeply and we breathe deep down into our belly, and then we open up and we extend our exhalation, that's telling the body to turn on the parasympathetic response.

Ellie Pike:
So it's really not hard, right? It might be hard for our minds to settle in, but it's not this hard practice that we all need to go to school for. It's something that anyone can just start doing at any moment?

Ed Kizer:
Yes. They're really simple techniques and they can really be done in any kind of environment that you can set up, whether you have a quiet place, whether you just do it while you're taking a walk, whether you just get a few moments alone and you just have that intention. You sit down, you're focusing on the breath.

That's when you're going to start the benefits. And what I always tell people is, the benefits come through the consistency of the practice more so than the techniques, because it's just that repetitive sort of wiring into your body, particularly on a daily schedule, that this is where we need to be. We need to be back in the parasympathetic.

Let's go there and rest there for a moment. And then we can always access those benefits later in the day if something comes up. If we're in a conflict or we're stressed at work or whatever's happening, we can breathe again. Then we're able to tap back into the work that we've been doing through our meditation practice.

Ellie Pike:
That's fantastic. So, that's kind of the purpose of creating Quaran Times, our new mini series, is really meeting the need of the crazy stress that's in the world right now and the anxiety and the panic and the sadness too, of isolation. And so I'm curious, would you be willing to lead us through a five to eight minute meditation for beginners and this'll be for us and our listeners to do it actively right now, if we're all willing?

Ed Kizer:
Sure, absolutely.

Ellie Pike:
Great. I'm going to put myself on mute so I will let you just lead us through it.

Ed Kizer:
Okay. So what I tell people again is, starting out, we want to focus on posture. So if you're able to sit cross-legged that's healthful, you can sit on a cushion, which kind of elevates your hips, it'll help to straighten your spine.

You don't need to be sitting cross legged. You can do this sitting in a chair, but you want to be sitting nice and straight, kind of erect but with a relaxed spine. Just notice any tension in your shoulders. You want to be able to relax those, just so you're not having to tense any part of your body. You're able to sit nice and tall, but to relax as well and just find that place.

And once you're there, that should give room to sort of expand as you breathe and what I want to do, and also I'll say, let's close your eyes or just kind of soften your gaze, whatever feels comfortable there. And find a place for your hands, it just kind of helps relax your shoulders. You hold a lot of tension in our shoulders. So just find a hand placement that feels like you can kind of start to relax through your back and shoulders.

Your eyes are closed. You're just sort of gaze softened. Now begin to turn your attention inward, beginning to focus on your breath. You want to start with four inhales and exhales. Want to come in through the nose and then out through the mouth, really lengthen and expand that exhale. Again in through the nose and out through the mouth. And do that twice. Two more times. And then I want you just to turn your attention to your breathing, to that internal space.

Begin to count your breath. One on the inhale and two on the exhale, three, four. I want you can continue that counting up to 10. In through the nose and out through the mouth. Once you reach 10, I want you return and start again at one on the inhale and two on the exhale... And continuing to 10, returning to one...

Anytime you notice that your mind is drifted away from the counting, you've engaged in thoughts about your day, concerns, just return to one and start your counting again... It's a normal process that the brain starts to slow down. (silence)

Again, notice if your mind has drifted away, return to counting... Allowing the breath to come deep down into the body, into the belly. (silence)

Now just slowly start to bring your awareness back, sensing any sensations in your body and your relaxation, any lingering tension. You can start to open the eyes, bring yourself back into the room...

Okay. And thank you for practicing with me.

Ellie Pike:
Thank you Ed. I feel a sense of slowness that I didn't have before the meditation. And I also have more awareness about just the thoughts that were running through my mind. And one thing I just was thinking of is, for some of us that just did this meditation, it might have felt relaxing and slow and grounding.

And then I think for others of us who try this, especially maybe for the first time, it can feel really uncomfortable to have that silence or to have to notice breath. So, we call meditation a practice. It's definitely not going to be perfect. And it doesn't have to be. But what's your advice for beginners who are feeling really uncomfortable with the silence and the breath?

Ed Kizer:
Yeah, I think there are kind of two struggles that people run into. One that's really common is, some people are just so in their head and their thoughts are always just kind of, they're racing or just going and they're intense and they sit down to meditate and that just ends up that it's really kind of... So it's just frustrating.

For other people, that it may be more, when they sit still, they start to experience more emotion. Sensations that are uncomfortable in their body, or just kind of turning their attention in where they begin to experience that.

So, I think you have to, in terms of mindfulness. When we talk about mindfulness or what we're working on, that's just awareness. So, just, you know, you sit down and become... And you try this and you just recognize and you're aware of that.

Well, that's a great start. That's a huge piece of this. It's just having that awareness. So you may want to just kind of do it slowly, just see what comes up. If it's too intense, take a break. I think for the people whose minds are just going, there is a practice where we're training the body. We are training the mind to settle down. So it should take some time for the mind to really start to settle and experience that stillness.

But it can be so frustrating for some people, it might be easier to sort of do more of a walking meditation where there's more... Or yoga and stretching along with breathing because having that sort of physical movement and focusing on the body in different ways can just be more helpful for certain people.

It really is about finding the practice that works for you, in a way that this feels healing and helpful for you. Because again, we want you... The benefits come from the consistency from that regular practice.

Ellie Pike:
I think that's a really important message that this is all about consistency and it's about practice and it may not be perfect, but just a few moments or minutes of breathing can just make such a huge difference in how our brain is reacting to the stress around us.

I want to thank Ed for coming on the show and giving us the basics for a home meditation practice. That was probably one of the most peaceful interviews I've ever done.

You can learn more about Ed and his therapy practice. He does a lot more besides meditation. Just visit the website of Sage Counseling and financial services at sagecfs.com.

Also, if you'd like to grow an at home meditation practice of your own, there are lots of resources out there. Some of the simplest are meditation apps like Headspace, Calm, Aura and the Insight Timer. We'll link to them in the show notes.

Finally, this show is available because of the good folks at Eating Recovery Center and Insight Behavioral Health Centers. They're here to help even in times of social distancing and quarantine. For a free consultation, with a professional therapist, please call 8-7-7-4-1-1-9-5-7-8.

Mental Note is directed and edited by Sam Pike and produced and hosted by me, Ellie Pike. Learn more about our other episodes at mentalnotepodcast.com. Till next time.

Presented by

Ellie Pike, MA, LPC

Ellie Pike is the Sr. Manager of Alumni/Family/Community Outreach at ERC & Pathlight Behavioral Health Centers. Over the years, she creatively combined her passions for clinical work with…