Category Archives: Relaxation

Exercise really delivers what comfort food only promises

When you feel bad—just normal stress, or perhaps another kind of emotional distress—physical activity helps. Here are some of the benefits:

Unlike trying to find comfort in comfort food, moving the body actually does provide a real distraction—and real relief—from discomfort, and depending on what you’re doing, physical effort can relax the mind as well as the body.

Studies confirm the reports that exercise makes people feel better; one 10 minute exercise session improves mood (if it’s not more strenuous than you’re used to–an important caveat). After exercising, people react less severely to stressors, and the effect is cumulative: that is, people become less reactive to stress as they make a regular habit of exercise. This applies as well to people experiencing anxiety and panic attacks, and depression.

Long-term benefits of exercise include better memory and cognitive function, and more creativity. (The creativity study tested problem solving while walking vs. standing still.) Another benefit is the association with better sleep, as long as you make sure you allow time to relax before bed.

As we age, there’s a host of particularly important benefits—whether or not we’ve been life-long couch potatoes. Take sleep, for example: after 4 months of regular exercise, previously sedentary adults were falling asleep faster, and sleeping better and longer.

Other benefits important to older adults include healthier aging, meaning it helps prevent chronic disease, depression, disability, and memory loss. And it can reverse age-related declines in muscle mass and strength.

But do remember that, while we can visualize ourselves as the gazelles floating around the track, we still need to start where we are, not where we wish we were. I’m a great walker, but if I wanted to become a runner, I’d have to start at ground zero, with the easy stuff.

If that’s you, too, there’s lots of info online (just Google beginning runner) and there are communities of runners (check running shoe stores). If you are in Whatcom County, like me, I can pass on a recommendation from a long-time runner for checking out the Fit School in Bellingham. And, whether you’re that ambitious or not at all, don’t forget Parkscriptions, especially if you’d like to combine exercise with meeting other health-minded people.

Can anyone be hypnotized?

I hear people say they can’t be hypnotized, but in my ten years of practice, I have yet to meet anyone who really can’t. Sure, some people take to it more easily than others, but isn’t that true of any skill we learn how to do? We get better at things through practice.

Some practitioners use a “hypnotizability scale” to determine how easily hypnotized their clients are. I don’t, because it doesn’t really make any difference to me how easily my clients go into trance, or how deeply into trance they are able to go. The value of the hypnotic state can’t be measured by how deep the trance is.

Here’s a definition of hypnosis, just to make sure we’re starting on the same page: it’s a natural state of deep relaxation and intense focus, or concentration. (It’s really very simple, even though attempts to explain what’s happening in the brain can get pretty complicated.)

The first benefit of this hypnotic state is being able to experience such a deep relaxation. If we do nothing else during a hypnosis session, I guarantee that we will feel the benefit. How often do we normally allow ourselves to relax deeply? Or how often do we take the time for it? The time we spend distracting ourselves from the cares of our day doesn’t have the same effect, though it can be pleasant.

The benefits of the relaxation itself—the side effects of hypnosis—are powerful. They include measurable things like changes in blood pressure or blood sugar readings, as well as less quantifiable things like a positive mood boost or a sense of increased energy, or being able to get better sleep.

Those side effects are reason enough to give yourself some time in hypnosis every day. If you know anyone who could use a boost in this way, let them know I have a class in Self Hypnosis on April 13 at Whatcom Community College. Here’s a link to the registration page.

A prescription for yoga

I’m constantly looking for new ways to help people who want to make the transition from a sedentary to a more active life. I’ve finally realized that the simplest thing I can do in my classes, for example, is add a couple of stretches for every hour of class. Maybe feeling the difference a couple of stretches can make will inspire us all to do a little more.

I’m like a broken record when it comes to the benefits of walking, especially outdoors (green exercise, it’s called). Mostly I talk about it because I love it, and I feel the benefits—it’s the best stress relief I’ve ever found, and I think it does more to support my health than any other activity I do.

Here’s what Psychology Today has to say about green exercise:

Outdoor exercise makes people happier, less fatigued and angry, more tranquil and relaxed, and bestows a more lasting energy boost compared to indoor exercise. Even five minutes of green exercise (like walking across a park or campus) is likely to boost self-esteem and mood. Green exercise is experienced as more restorative and is more likely to increase a person’s frequency of exercise compared to indoor exercise, and all these effects are enhanced with both duration and intensity of outdoor exercise.

Improved self-esteem and mood in 5 minutes? Who doesn’t need more of this?

However, a 2010 study from Boston University Medical Center compared the effects of Iyengar yoga classes against the benefits of walking on 34 healthy people.  The results showed that compared with walking, “yoga appears to be accompanied by greater improvement in mood and decrease in anxiety and a boost in the brain chemical associated with these benefits.”

The brain chemical referred to is the neurotransmitter GABA, low levels of which are associated with depressed mood and anxiety. The participants in the yoga groups showed higher GABA levels as well as reporting better mood compared to the walkers in the control group, who walked for an hour three times per week. In spite of the higher level of exercise in the control group, the yoga groups showed more improvement in mood.

Now, a new study from Boston University Medical Center looks at the effects of Iyengar yoga classes and deep breathing practice on 30 people with major depression. The study put participants in two groups; one attended yoga classes two times per week and practiced at home, and the other attended three classes per week as well as practicing at home. After twelve weeks, there was no difference between the affects on the two groups: all the participants experienced a reduction in their depressive symptoms. Good news, indeed.

Whether or not depression is an issue, any enjoyable way to reduce anxiety and improve mood is very welcome. We need those in our self-care toolkit.

Stage hypnosis vs. hypnotherapy

I’m not a fan of stage hypnosis shows. I don’t enjoy watching people being influenced to behave in ways that would make me feel embarrassed. So I’m not likely to show up on stage as either the hypnotist or the hypnotized entertainment—not anytime soon, anyway.

What’s interesting to me about stage hypnotists is that when I get over my aversion to embarrassing myself or others, I can appreciate the way they demonstrate the power we have when we’re in that naturally-occurring altered state we call hypnosis.

In a hypnosis show, there’s a specific social context. The participants are the hypnotist, the volunteers on stage, and the audience. Everyone is involved in creating the show, the spectacle. The shared expectation is that the participants and the audience will be involved together in creating an entertaining experience. There will be surprises; people will surprise themselves and others by behaving oddly.

That shared expectation is an important component of the hypnosis experience, whether the context is a stage show, or a quiet office during a hypnotherapy session. In the stage show, the expectation is shared among all the participants. In a hypnotherapy session, it’s shared between the hypnotist and the client.

When potential clients contact me, I offer a (free) brief introductory session; I do it because it becomes an opportunity to establish that shared expectation—not for the purpose of entertainment, but to help clients benefit from the innately healing nature of the hypnosis trance state.

I say it’s innately healing, and what I’m referring to is the healing effect of being deeply relaxed—something I think we all could use more of.

Many of the people I see in my practice have seen hypnosis shows. They already know I’m not going to embarrass them in public, but they also have to trust that I have the skill to help them into that altered state of heightened, self-directed, focused attention—and then help them use that state in a healthy and productive way.

So I have mixed feelings about stage hypnosis. It makes me cringe, but I’m happy that other people have a chance to witness the power of the mind to change our perceptions and our behavior.

New classes for 2016 at Whatcom Community College

I’m getting ready for some new classes at WCC for Winter quarter–in addition to the classes in the popular weight loss series, we’re adding 2 brand new ones.  On February 6, a Saturday, we’re doing a class on sleep–everything you ever wanted to know about sleep–facts, myths, and some pretty cool tools for those of us who suffer from occasional insomnia, including a recording designed to ease you into a deep and refreshing night’s sleep.

The other new class is also a Saturday morning class on March 5–this one is focused on enhancing creativity.  Again, facts, myths, exercises, and a new recording.  This is for anyone who’s interested in the topic–from those who just want to explore the possibilities to those who’ve had trouble with blocks or other obstacles when it comes to their creative projects.

I’m looking forward to both classes! Registration info is listed on the Events page, or you can contact WCC directly via phone or internet, And of course you are welcome to contact me for more info.


Ready for change? Sign up for the next Weight Control with Hypnosis class

I’m getting ready for the next series of Weight Control with Hypnosis classes starting October 15 at Whatcom Community College, and I’m getting excited! It is so great to see people using these classes to make so many positive changes in their lives, and I love seeing so many wonderful people supporting each other in this work.

I often boast that the only side effect of hypnosis is relaxation—and it’s true, I assure you—but when it comes to this class, there’s another, equally wonderful side effect: it will introduce you to a new, positive way of thinking about the daily care and maintenance of your body, mind, and spirit. And I mean your body—not mine or your sister’s or your neighbor’s—your body, your mind, your spirit. Your well-being.

Big words; a big promise. Especially since every body is unique; therefore every path on the road to well-being is unique. And yet, we’ll discover, a lot of the milestones—and the obstacles—that people face look pretty similar.

We’ll talk about this stuff in class—in between relaxing hypnosis sessions—and you’ll see that it is possible to let go of the barriers between you and your healthy weight. Not just possible—it’s doable.

For you that might mean breaking some bad habits, or making new healthier habits.

It might mean clarifying your motivation (it’s the cornerstone for solid, dependable willpower, and everyone needs willpower, no matter what they weigh!).

It might mean banishing cravings that torment you when you try to eat in a healthier way.

It might mean finding ways to nourish yourself that have nothing to do with food.

It might include recognizing and changing attitudes that don’t serve your commitment to your own wellbeing.

I know that’s a daunting list, but all these things, and more, come up in each class, and we work with them, and through them. With hypnosis, you’ll find it doesn’t have to be a battle—and each small change has powerful, enduring rewards!

If you’re interested and have questions about the class, or hypnosis in general, please do feel free to contact me. And you can use this link to register for the class.

Stress reactions can be positive or negative, depending on how we see them

I spend a lot of time with clients talking about stress, simply because stress is so often a trigger for habits people want to break (food habits, cigarettes, anger, headaches, etc.)

Dealing with stressors we have some control over is one kind of problem; dealing with the ones we have no control over requires figuring out how to turn the stress reaction into a reasoned response.  For example, taking long slow deep breaths can take energy away from the stress reaction and give it back to your reasoning brain.  It takes concentration and practice, especially at first, but it works well.  (You can use self hypnosis to build this into a habit, too.)

By changing our automatic stress reaction, we can learn to control the effects of stress, even though we may not have control over the stressors themselves.   I can’t control rush-hour traffic, in other words, but I can control how I react to rush-hour traffic.

The physical reactions to stress are pretty standard: you breathe a little faster, maybe start to sweat, your heart pounds. And the fallout, physically, is damaging to your health.  Or is it?

Turns out, stress kills . . . but only if you believe it does.  In a Harvard study, participants were taught to reframe their stress reaction: the heart rate speeding up, the faster breathing, were just preparing them for activity, for action, for whatever challenge they face.  The participants who learned to view the stress response as helpful preparation were less anxious and more confident.

Not only were they more comfortable, there was a significant difference in their physiological response.  In the typical stress response, your blood vessels constrict as your heart rate goes up—one reason stress is associated with cardiovascular disease.  But in participants who viewed their stress response as helpful, the blood vessels stayed relaxed, a much healthier physical state.

It looks like the most damaging aspect of stress may be our negative perception of it.

Here’s a video of Dr. Kelly McGonigal talking about this phenomenon in a TED talk.  She’s the author of The Willpower Instinct, a very fun read that is also a great resource for anyone who wants to make a change for the better.