Prisoner Self-Help

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Archive for the category “Relaxation”

Yogic Eye Exercises

by Masha Bennett www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

This is a simple exercise for relaxation, relieving tension in the eye muscles and to help improve sleep.

It can initially feel a bit strange and tiring for the eye muscles, as we are not accustomed to using our eyes in this way. These exercise are said to be used by yogi, but you don’t have to know anything about yoga to benefit from them.

Important note: if you suffer from cataracts or other eye problems it may be better to avoid these exercises or consult with a medical professional before trying them.

eye

When doing these eye exercises:

*Keep your head straight and do not move it, only moving the eyes.

*Close and relax your eyes for about 30 seconds between the exercises.

*If you normally wear contact lenses, it’s better to take them off for these exercises.

1.Keep your head still and look ahead. Look up and down, floor to ceiling, 10-15 times. Close your eyes and rest for half a minute.

2. Look left and right moving your eyes sideways as far as you can 10-15 times. Close your eyes and rest again for half a minute.

3. Move the eyes diagonally as far as possible 10-15 times one way, rest, then move them 10-15 times the other way, rest.

4. Move the eyes in a 180 degree upwards arc (like a rainbow) 10-15 times. Rest.

5. Finally, move the eyes in a 180 degree downwards arc (upside down rainbow) 10-15 times. Rest.

If you feel a bit dizzy or uncomfortable at any point during these exercises, just stop, close your eyes and allow them to rest for longer.

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist and a trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). She has worked for a number of years within the UK criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and currently combines work in the National Health Service with her private therapy practice. Her website is www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

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How to Hug a Tree

by Masha Bennett http://www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

When I include this exercise in my courses and personal development sessions, many people are reluctant to try it. But virtually everyone later reports that that it was a profound and healing experience..

If you have access to a real tree, that’s great. If you don’t, you can still do the exercise in your imagination. Think of a tree that you know – or you can make one up in your mind. Then go through the following steps, slowly, with no hurry, trying to maintain an attitude of curious openness…

1. Approach the tree slowly.

2. From some distance, notice the shape of the crown, the way the branches reach out to the sky.

3. Take in the colours, different shades of green, the texture of the foliage, how the leaves are intricately positioned, to allow in as much sunlight as possible.

4. Notice – what do you like most about the tree? And is there anything you don’t like – are there any flaws, perhaps some damage to the branches, gaps in foliage, anything that is not pleasing to your eye?

5. Come closer, touch the tree trunk, feel the bark gently underneath your palm, your fingers. Is it rough, or smooth? Warm, cool?

6. Lean on the tree trunk, allow it to support your body.

7. Optional (I really like this bit):  put your cheek on the bark, really allow that sensitive part of your to feel the tree’s outer skin.

ash_tree

8. Put your arms around the tree – depending on the size of the tree, your hands may or may not meet on the other side of the trunk.

9. Close your eyes and focus on your physical sensations and your emotions. Feel the energy of the tree (it is a very large energy field of a very large organism!)

10. Spend a few minutes just quietly noticing whatever you are experiencing, without trying to analyse or judge it

11. You may like to ask the tree a question – out loud, or in your mind perhaps. Wait for the answer. This may come as thoughts, images, physical sensations, an awareness, insight.

12. Let go of the tree trunk slowly. Thank the tree.

You may now feel energized, or perhaps a little emotional, or possibly calm and peaceful. Whatever it is, it’s the right thing for now. You can now take your new insights, the new energy, the new connections with you.

Try this with different trees – and if you can, try it both with a real tree and a tree in your imagination – the experience will vary but will always be healing and enlightening.

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist and a trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). She has worked for a number of years within the UK criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and currently combines work in the National Health Service with her private therapy practice. Her website is www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

The Butterfly Hug

by Masha Bennett www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing) is a complex and powerful therapy that is used to treat Post Traumatic Stress, anxiety and some other mental health issues. Unfortunately it can only be safely used by specially trained mental health professionals and at the moment is rarely available in prisons. However, the so-called Butterfly Hug is one small tool in EMDR toolbox that can safely be used by anyone (even children) for self-help. You can try the Butterfly Hug to soothe yourself when you feel anxious, uncertain or fearful. Similarly to the full EMDR procedure, this tool employs bi-lateral stimulation, i.e. stimulation of the two sides of our brain, which is thought to help process trauma and calm anxious feelings.

This is how to do the Butterfly Hug. Whilst sitting up with your back straight, cross your arms across your chest, as if you are giving yourself a hug, with your right hand resting on your left upper arm, and your left hand on your right upper arm. (It doesn’t matter which arm is on top.) Observe any feelings of anxiety, fear or upset in yourself, and tap your hands on your arms alternately – left, right, left, right – at whatever speed is comfortable for you.

After tapping for a minute or two, stop and take a deep breath. Notice how you are feeling – are you a little calmer, somewhat relaxed, a bit more comfortable? Just notice whatever feelings or sensations you are experiencing, and continue tapping until you feel as calm as you would like to be.

butterfly_compressed

Butterfly is an ancient symbol of transformation

If you don’t notice any change, try tapping for a little bit longer and you may feel it then. You can do the Butterfly Hug for as long as you like, and as many times a day as you like. You can do it on your own, together with a friend or with a group of people.

This method was created by EMDR therapists who worked with children in the aftermath a natural disaster in Mexico City in 1998.

The Butterfly Hug is a useful tool but it will not work for everyone every time. If for any reason you begin to feel worse, please stop tapping and try calming yourself down by using any other methods that are available to you.

Another simple way to do bi-lateral stimulation (which should have a similar effect to the Butterfly Hug) is to pass a small ball or even a pebble from one hand to another repeatedly – it appears that almost any type of repeated left-right stimulation of our body is likely to have a balancing and soothing effect.

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist, EMDR therapist and a trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). She has worked for a number of years within the UK criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and currently combines work in the National Health Service with her private therapy practice. Masha teaches EFT, trauma awareness and self-help tools to professionals and general public across Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is  www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

Useful links and references

EMDR Association UK & Ireland

EMDR Europe

EMDR International Association

Nancy Napier’s website

Grounding Techniques

by Masha Bennett www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

When we suffer with anxiety, have been shocked or traumatised, it is not uncommon for us to feel disconnected from our body or from reality (psychiatrists may call these states “depersonalisation” and “derealisation”).  We may feel numb, spaced out, distracted and generally “not with it”. It is a way our mind protects us from difficult feelings. However this disconnection or dissociation from our bodies can cause problems, as it numbs positive emotions as well as negative ones, and can also prevent any healing or therapy you undertake from working effectively. When we are ungrounded we are also more likely to suffer flashbacks to traumatic experiences.

The so-called grounding can be very important especially during stressful times, and helps us to reconnect our body and mind. It involves some very simple techniques that can help us feel calmer and safer. Grounding is also very useful to do in preparation for learning and practice of any form of relaxation, meditation or self-hypnosis. (If we are ungrounded when we attempt to relax, it is possible that the relaxation process itself may, paradoxically, provoke anxiety.)

Photo by gubgib atwww.freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by gubgib atwww.freedigitalphotos.net

To put it simply, grounding refers to our sense of connection with the ground (the earth or the floor) – with our physical environment.

The basic principles of grounding are straightforward – it is about paying attention to the sensations of your body being physically connected to the ground, floor, chair or any other surface you are in contact with. For example:

  • Feeling your feet standing firmly on the floor
  • Feeling the weight of your body in the seat
  • Feeling your back against the chair
  • Feeling your elbows on the armrest.

That’s it! When practising grounding, you will probably notice that your attention drifts from the physical sensations of your feet on the floor and your body in the chair to something else – e.g. everyday thoughts or worries, and that’s completely normal. When you notice that just gently bring your attention to the physical sensations of connecting with your environment again.

Touching and holding objects with your hands also has a gentle grounding effect – hugging a pillow or a soft toy, touching wood or metal and noticing their temperature and texture, focusing on the feel of fabric of your clothes or bedding – all can help to practise being in the “here and now”.

If you get a chance to try grounding outdoors, that is even better – when we can feel the ground or the grass with our bare feet, we re-connect with the Earth naturally. Hold a handful of soil, touch (or even hug) a tree, feel a leaf or a twig with your fingers.

Some people like to enhance the pleasant feeling of relaxation that is often associated with grounding through visualisation techniques (making pictures in your mind)– for example, imagining that there are “roots” growing from the soles of their feet, reaching deep into the ground, anchoring them firmly to the Earth, supporting them and holding them. The well-known holistic teacher and author Dr William Bloom suggests a range of grounding visualisation techniques in his book The Endorphin Effect, including imagining and sensing  that you are:

  • a tree with a strong trunk and deep roots
  • a mountain rising out of the earth
  • the big fat smiling Buddha sitting firmly on the ground
  • the wide-hipped “Earth Goddess”

tree

You can also ground yourself whilst walking – just pay attention to the sensations in your legs when you move them and the feeling in your feet as they connect with the floor.

If you are beginning to feel anxious and it seems like a part of you is disconnecting from your body, or when you are getting a flashback to a traumatic experience, you can bring yourself back to “hear and now” by stamping your feet hard on the ground or floor a few times (if there are people around you, it may be helpful to explain what you are doing, so that they don’t think you are having a tantrum!) Any other strong sensory input can be helpful – for example, holding an ice cube or putting your hands in cold water (or splashing it into your face. Strong smells can also be useful for grounding too – if you can get hold of spices or herbal teabags, you can use them to help yourself ground.

Eating food also has a grounding effect (meat, root vegetables and starchy foods especially so) so try to make sure that you don’t miss your meals, and pay conscious attention to the food whilst eating it. This may be one of the reasons that some people who have experienced trauma develop eating disorders – with the numbness and painful emptiness inside being temporarily soothed with food.

If you enjoy listening to or making music, deep low notes also tend to have a grounding effect – if you have enough privacy to do this comfortably you could hum or sing to yourself at the lower range of your voice and notice the effect it has on your mind and body.

Regular grounding practice is especially important for people who experienced trauma, suffer with anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm and addictions, and should become an integral part of your healing process.

References and further information

Bloom, William (2011) The Endorphin Effect. Piatkus.

Behaviour Health Resources www.bcbhr.org/Articles.aspx?7

Mosaic Minds www.mosaicminds.org

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist and a trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). She has worked for a number of years within the criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and currently combines work in the UK National Health Service with her private therapy and training practice. Masha teaches EFT, trauma awareness and self-help tools to professionals and general public across 10 countries in Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is  www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

Simple Relaxation

by Masha Bennett www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

One of my favourite relaxation techniques is the so-called “Betty Erickson Induction”, which is really a type of self-hypnosis approach that relies on using our senses to induce relaxation. It is used by some hypnotherapists to help a client go into relaxing trance, and also overlaps with some aspects of Mindfulness.

When I worked in a women’s prison, I taught this technique to many of the girls suffering with insomnia. Clearly, a prison is not a tranquil or relaxing place and sleep problems are really common. The women found it helpful, especially as the technique incorporates noises or sounds in the environment into the process of relaxation.

So, to start off, sit or lie in a comfortable position, and begin to notice what you can see, hear and feel.

1. Say to yourself gently:

“I can see… [name any object in your field of vision]” and repeat for 5 different objects, for example:

“I can see a window”
“I can see a wall”
“I can see a lamp”
“I can see a book”
“I can see a radiator”

2. Then say to yourself:

“I can hear… [name any sound you can hear]”
and repeat for 5 different sounds, for example:

“I can hear the ticking of the clock”
“I can hear traffic outside”
“I can hear my breathing”
“I can hear a door creaking”
“I can hear the wind”

3. Then say to yourself:

“I can feel… [name any feeling or sensation you experience]”
and repeat for 5 different sensations, for example:

“I can feel tension in my shoulders”
“I can feel my feet on the floor”
“I can feel my tongue in my mouth”
“I can feel heaviness in my limbs”
“I can feel my hand on my lap”

4. Repeat the sequence, this time naming only 4 things you can SEE, 4 things you can HEAR, 4 things you can FEEL. The pictures/sounds/sensations can be the same as last time, or different – it doesn’t matter.

5. Repeat, naming 3 things you can SEE, 3 things you can HEAR, 3 things you can FEEL

6. Repeat, naming 2 things you can SEE, 2 things you can HEAR, 2 things you can FEEL

7. Repeat, naming 1 thing you can SEE, 1 thing you can HEAR, 1 thing you can FEEL

By now, if you are not asleep yet, you should feel more relaxed and with much less “chatter” in your mind. If needed, you can repeat the procedure more than once.

This technique can be used for insomnia as well as general relaxation in stressful situations, e.g. in a waiting room before an interview or meeting, during a test or an exam or when preparing for a difficult conversation. Please make sure you do NOT practise this technique whilst driving or operating any machinery, as it can quickly make some people  feel very sleepy!

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist and a trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). She has worked for a number of years within the criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and currently combines work in the UK National Health Service with her private therapy and training practice. Masha teaches EFT, trauma awareness and self-help tools to professionals and general public across 10 countries in Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is  www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

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